Daily Blog

Letters from an American

Someone who outdoes me by a wide margin in generation of daily thoughts is Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College. About a month ago I started getting emails from her every morning, a free service called “Letters from an American.” In them, she discusses current events in the context of American history. I don’t know how I got on her list — I must have clicked on something — but unlike 99% of what gets dumped gratuitously in one’s mailbox, her daily essays are extraordinarily intelligent and informative. I read elsewhere that even a few years ago she had a million subscribers. I wish she had as many as there are eligible voters in the U.S.A.

The Tragedy of Elon Musk

I read that Elon Musk said that he opposes the bill that would help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s war of conquest. Musk’s reason is that Russia will win anyway.

Really? The NATO nations are collectively much stronger economically and militarily than Russia. If they are united and resolved, they can give Ukraine all it needs to stop Putin from winning. If Musk had been living in 1940, he would probably have opposed the lend-lease aid we extended to the British. “Hitler will conquer them anyway,” he would have said. It is a tragedy that Musk is brilliant in business and engineering, but when it comes to virtuousness, goodness, and decency, he is a dunce.

The Horror of the Headlines

Today’s online New York Times has a horrifying collection of headlines about polls showing Trump leading Biden, Biden’s unpopularity, and the damaging effect of the weakening of the Voting Rights Act.

Biden has performed well as President, and though he has fallen down in some respects, for example in not holding anywhere near enough news conferencesand ducking chances for direct communication to large audiences, he is manifestly superior to Trump as a candidate by such an enormous margin that one wonders if some malevolent spirit has invaded the brains of much of the populace.

The Fascist Party

If you hold political views akin to those that traditionally defined the Republican Party, you should understand that in the most important respects they are antithetical to what the GOP stands for today. As Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin points out, the Republican Party has become the “anti-democratic, anti-rule-of-law, and anti-objective-reality party.” The Republican Party is no longer the conservative party; it’s
 the fascist party.

American Democracy on the Ropes

Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted review of the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals denial of Trump’s bogus claim that he is immune from any criminal acts he committed while he was President of the United States. The Court set the week of April 22 for oral argument and will issue a ruling before its present term ends — about June 30th. As a practical matter, the Court’s rulings have reduced the chances that Trump could be tried and convicted in the federal courts before the election to very close to nil.

By brazenly stretching out the timeline for rulings, filings, and oral arguments at various stages of the prosecution of Trump for trying to overturn the 2020 election, the Supreme Court’s extreme right-wing majority has shown itself to be more interested in promoting the Trump-driven Republican agenda than in upholding the Constitution and the law. American democracy is on the ropes, and only a solid victory at the polls for Democrats this November can save it.

Ukraine Aid, Israel Aid / Republicans / Progressives / Trump / Putin

Of all the maddening things going on, near the top of the list for me is the blocking of continuing aid to Ukraine, which is needed urgently and desperately and immediately. Not only Ukraine’s fate, but that of the Western alliance of democracies, indeed humanity’s, may be at stake. It’s beyond disgusting that Republicans are blocking aid to please Trump, who is motivated by his desire to please Putin, who is doing everything he can to get Trump elected, so Trump can do more to please him — it’s disgusting in the extreme. Almost the same can be said for House progressives who won’t approve aid to Ukraine unless aid is withheld from Israel. By holding Ukraine hostage to heir demands, they lower themselves to the moral plane of Republicans whose policy is to generate chaos and of that of Hamas leaders who are holding Israeli citizens hostage. I agree that Biden has been, and still is, much too accommodating to Netanyahu, who has shown himself be a thoroughly Trumpian character, but please, everybody, try to see the big picture.

A Morsel of Good News

Headline: “Hungary approves Sweden’s NATO bid, unblocking historic expansion.” If you look hard enough, you can usually find at least one piece of good news each day. Victor Orban, the strongman leader of Hungary, who, like Trump, admires Putin and wants his approval, had been blocking Sweden from becoming a member of NATO. You can bet Orban didn’t stop blocking Sweden because he became enlightened about Russia’s continuing its brutal war against Ukraine or its assault against Western liberal democracies. I suspect that other European nations applied effective pressure on Orban so it became in his own self-interest to stop blocking Sweden. With people like Orban, Trump, and Putin, self-interest is what matters. Nothing else counts.

Political Policy and the Bible

In an excellent Washington Post column yesterday, E.J. Dionne referred to a conversation he’d had with Representative Rosa DeLauro, (D) Connecticut, about Mike Johnson, who says he is guided by the Bible in his job as Speaker of the House. Ms. DeLauro, who is a devout Christian, cited half a dozen Bible passages, which Mr. Johnson evidently never read. If he were honest, he would attend to them and be guided by them. Then he would be able to call himself a true Christian instead of a perverted one.

Religious Freedom

The recent ruling of the Alabama that frozen embryos are people is another stretch of pavement laid on the road to theocracy. This destructive and disturbing ruling flies against the basic principle that the Constitution not only guarantees freedom of religion, it also guarantees freedom from religion. Courts dominated by adherents of perverted Christian doctrines choose to ignore this bedrock truth.

Ukraine and its Enemies

Watching PBS’s venerable “Washington Week” last evening was heartbreaking. The discussion was mostly devoted to the perilous position of Ukraine in the absence of U.S. support, which has been blocked for weeks by the Republicans who control the House of Representatives.

Republican politicians have decided to do Trump’s bidding, which, as surely they know, is a decision to do Putin’s bidding. Putin’s malevolent desires are Trump’s guiding light.

Trump’s Immunity Claim

The all-important federal criminal proceeding against Trump for his role in the January 6th, 2021, Insurrection has been held up for many weeks because Trump is appealing the ruling of the District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting his claim of immunity from prosecution for crimes committed while he was president. The American Revolution was fought and our nation was founded on the principle that citizens of the United States should not be ruled by someone who is above the law. Trump’s claim is completely baseless. Yet the Supreme Court is sitting on it, taking its time, increasing every day the chances that Trump will not be tried before the election next November. At its highest level — the Supreme Court of the United States — our justice system has broken down.

Poverty and Progress

I read that 37 million Americans (about 11% of the population) live below the poverty line. Children and many adults among this group are struggling to survive. Few of them have the means or the resources to improve their lives. I favor instituting a minimum income for everyone. How could that be financed? The answer: Set up a far more progressive tax structure. At present, accomplishing that would be politically impossible. We need to educate people as to why so many are pinned down in the land of conspicuous abundance.

America First!

It’s to a great extent a wretched world. It’s beyond our capacity to set it straight. Let’s take care of ourselves and not knock ourselves out worrying about what goes on outside our borders, which, by the way, we should make a lot more secure.

It’s not hard to appreciate the appeal of that philosophy, though it does sound overly self-involved. The trouble with it, besides sounding overly self-involved, is that it is overly self-involved. Worse than that: the road with the sign pointing to it saying “America First” is the road that leads to “America Last.” If we betray our principles and abdicate as a beacon of freedom, democracy, courage and good will — if we allow ourselves to give in to the forces of mean-spiritedness and greed — we’ll end up, sooner than would have been thought possible, on the ash heap of history.

Trump’s Decision

After several days of presumably sober reflection, Trump decided that he must say something about Navalny’s death. Anything that might irritate Putin was out of the question, and for that reason Trump was forced once again to betray the United States, remarking: “The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country. . . CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction.”

You can bet that brought a smile to Putin’s face.

Trump’s Choice

Headline: “Trump remains silent on Navalny’s death.”
Thoughts must have gone through Trump’s mind when he
learned that Navalny was dead. He probably considered
whether he should publicly remark on that fact. It’s not surprising
that he decided not to comment. There was nothing he could say
that wouldn’t either expose him as being a traitor to the United States
or risk irritating Putin.

Putin, Navalny, and Tucker Carlson.

Some people behave badly and are only dimly aware of it, if that. They repress inconvenient thoughts. Others, who lack feeling for the rights and interests of others, jettison any moral principles they are aware of. Once they’ve crossed that line, it’s almost impossible for them to turn back. They continue to be the type of person they chose to be. Tucker Carlson presents a vivid example of this type. Putin murdered Navalny only a few days after Carlson interviewed Putin, for two hours, I believe it was, during which Carlson never asked Putin about Navalny. Carlson must have felt a jolt when he learned that Navalny was dead. A jolt, unaccompanied by illumination. Carlson was a dead soul by then, and so he almost certainly will remain.

Courage and Cowardice

Alexei Navalny stood up for democracy and decency against Putin, though he knew he would be harassed and imprisoned and probably tortured and killed. Republicans in the House of Representatives won’t stand up for democracy and decency against Trump, because they would face increased risk of a primary challenge, or, in Speaker Mike Johnson’s case, colleagues reaching for his gavel.

The Courts and Democracy

Headline: “India’s top court bans anonymous election donations in blow to ruling party.” Good for India’s top court. Would that our top court strike a blow for democracy too. For starters, let the D. C. January 6th Trump prosecution proceed without further delay.

Trump, Basketball Courts, and Gorillas

You’re familiar with the metaphor of people failing to notice that the emperor is wearing no clothes. There’s a psychology experiment to the same effect. Participants were asked to count how many times a player on a basketball team tossed the ball to a teammate. The participants became so fixated on this task that they didn’t notice the man wearing a gorilla suit who walked across the court in front of them. When Trump said that he would “encourage” Putin to attack our NATO allies who weren’t spending enough on defense, he showed himself to be as unfit to be President as a gorilla. People must resist being so distracted by the plethora of far less consequential concerns that they fail to notice him. He’s poised to do a lot more damage than a gorilla could.

The Supreme Court and the Threat to American Democracy

The Supreme Court is failing to expedite Trump’s attempt to stall the Jan. 6th criminal case against him by raising the sham defense that he is immune from prosecution. If the United States transitions from being a shining beacon of democracy and good will to being a crabbed, mean-spirited, irresponsible autocracy, the ideologically driven right-wing extremist justices on the court will deserve a generous share of the blame.

The Status of Efforts to Resume Aiding Ukraine

Yesterday it was reported that the senate voted 67-27 to move a bill forward that includes $60.1 billion in aid that Ukraine critically needs to defend itself against Russia and that the United States critically needs to provide to Ukraine to avoid falling into isolationist ignominy and complete sycophancy to the aspiring autocrat, 91-felony count-indicted emperor of Mar-a-Lago. Now the measure must somehow achieve procedural standing and be voted on and passed by the House in spite of virulent opposition to it by the MAGA-dominated Republican caucus. As seems so often the case these days, common sense and decency will need a good measure of luck to prevail.

Biden: Communicate!

Headline: “Trump says he would ‘encourage’ Russia to attack NATO allies who don’t pay up.”

Headline: “Dems plead with Biden to do more, not less, media as doubts grow about his capacity for the job”

Trump is like a five-alarm fire. Biden is like a well-equipped fire department. The fire engines are pointed out, but they’re still in the fire house. Biden has to get the truth across to the public: Biden is competent, capable, and honorable. Trump is an unprecedentedly destructive force. Biden should deliver addresses to the nation, hold frequent press conferences, and in every other way communicate. Don’t count on the State of the Union Address to get the point across. Better to talk your heart out and fail than cringe and hope for the best while the worst are wielding sledgehammers.

Bad News; Then More.

It was a painful experience watching Chris Hayes’s excellent news show last evening on MSNBC: Congressional Republicans are obeying Trump, who is obeying Putin in blocking aid to Ukraine — the hell with defending democracy and the Western Alliance. Putin, of course, will do whatever he can to help Trump return to the White House. And, if Trump regains power, he will do whatever he can to accommodate Putin. Meanwhile, Biden has been unable to keep Netanyahu from administering mass death and destruction on the hapless residents of Gaza. Apart from the appalling human tragedy this entails, it hurts Biden politically. If it continues, it could be the fatal blow to his election campaign; whereas it helps Netanyahu to keep the war in process, putting off the day when he will be ousted from office and possibly prosecuted for corruption and gross negligence.

That wasn’t all the bad news Chris Hayes served up. But let’s stop a moment to ask, “Was there any good news? Yes, sort of. Democrats have a chance of picking up the Congressional seat vacated by that mishap of a human being, George Santos.

Aid to Ukraine

Enough Republican senators joined the large majority of Democrats and passed a bill providing for further aid to Israel and Ukraine. Now, enough Representatives in the House have to be peeled off from the overwhelmingly Trump-obedient Republican caucus to get the bill to the President’s desk. It’s a tough task but possibly doable. The issue is a major marker in the struggle that spans the world between democracy and autocracy

The Terrifying and the Fascinating

The news seems to get more terrifying all the time, and more ghoulishly fascinating. How will the Supreme Court handle the 14th Amendment / Trump disqualification issue slated for oral argument today? Will they grant certiorari next week on Trump’s appeal of the D. C. Circuit ruling that he’s not immune from prosecution for crimes committed while he was President? How will the Court split? Or will it rule unanimously? Which among the mixed motives of the Justices will carry the day?

The Republican Party Has Become a Blight on Our Country

Why would the Republicans want to try to impeach a cabinet officer even though they don’t have a trace of evidence of wrong doing? It’s because they don’t have the votes to impeach Biden, but think they could get enough votes to impeach someone —anyone. Then impeachments wouldn’t seem like such a big deal: Just like with Trump, they want people to think — it’s a political thing that happens all the time. This is typical of the way members of today’s Republican Party behave. Instead of showingTrump and MAGA extremists the door, they became subservient to them and transitioned from being the Grand Old Party to a blight on our country.

Do We Live in a Sick Country?

According to a CNN poll, 63 percent of Americans think Trump is “too extreme,” but he’s favored over Biden 49 percent to 45 percent in the upcoming election. Evidently, the times demand a too extreme leader. This can happen in a sick country.

Trump’s Eligibility for Holding Office

This week the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether, under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, Trump should be excluded from holding a federal office because he participated in an insurrection. The question should be answered in the affirmative.

As is more often the case than not, judges (or justices) can construct a line of legal argument that satisfies their personal preference but reads as if it’s the result of scholarly analysis. They are not supposed to do that, of course. They are supposed to try to reach a conclusion that is intellectually honest and most truthfully supported by the law. The extreme right-wing justices that dominate the present Supreme Court have demonstrated a willingness to ignore this principle. Their personal preferences tend to be paramount. It would be a stunning surprise if the Court found Trump ineligible to serve.

Who Deserves the Most Credit if Our Country Is Saved?

Watching a political news show on TV yesterday, I heard a panelist say that Biden’s support has slipped among black men. Yes, another panelist said, and he needs the black vote to win. I’d heard that already. It’s a shocking fact: If only white people voted in the presidential election, Biden would have no chance of beating Trump. That doesn’t say much for white people. It will take the descendants of people they enslaved to save their country and them with it.

Toxicity and the Atmosphere

The European Union managed to overcome the objections of Hungary’s Trumpian-type leader, Viktor Orbån, and authorize fifty billion Euros aid for Ukraine. That gives the United States breathing room to pull itself together and resume doing its share. We have breathing room, but the MAGA movement and Trump-induced fumes have dangerously polluted our air.

The News Keeps Coming Like a Stream from a Loose Firehose.

The presidential election this year will determine whether American democracy will withstand the assault of a malevolent narcissistic aspiring autocrat and his tens of millions of supporters, all of whom are either (a) cynical, amoral, and wantonly opportunistic, (b) deeply and tragically deluded, or (c) both. The stakes are so high that I find myself thinking about every bit of streaming news: Does this help Trump? Does this help Biden? The news keeps coming. It’s agitating to the brain. The same is true of news that doesn’t come. Why haven’t we gotten the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit three-judge panel on the immunity issue? Why should it take more than a few minutes to rule that the president of the United States isn’t immune from prosecution for criminal acts committed while in office? Don’t people know what the American Revolution was about?

A Case of Malignant Narcissism

In her Washington Post Q & A yesterday, Jennifer Rubin listed the indicia of a malignant narcissist. They can be identified by their lack of empathy, self-awareness, and self-control and having no sense of what is right and what is wrong. If you’ve watched or listened to Trump for any length of time — half a minute should be enough — you know that he checks every box.

It’s Worth Saying Again:

Republicans blocking Ukraine aid to placate Trump, so he can placate Putin, is as vile, abhorrent, and reprehensible as political behavior can get. The enormity of it should sink in.

Republicans blocking Ukraine aid

Republicans blocking Ukraine aid to placate Trump, so Trump can placate Putin, is as vile, abhorrent, and reprehensible as political behavior can get.

Responding to Trump

Headline: “Trump brags about efforts to stymie border talks: ‘Please blame it on me’”

I hope the Media will oblige him by blaming him, and that voters will blame him en masse at the Polls. I know that History will blame him as a malevolent force unleashed upon the world.

All that Matters

Headline: “Biden willing to shut southern border to help
secure funding for Ukraine”

It’s nothing less than the crime of extortion for Republicans to insist that Biden must accede to their demands on border policy as a condition of continuing to aid Ukraine in defending itself against Russia. Preventing Putin from rolling over Ukraine is so important, not only to Ukraine but also to the Western alliance and our national security interests, that Biden is willing to give Republicans everything they want to secure their cooperation. It turns out that this is not good enough. Republicans have decided that they won’t take “yes” for an answer because Trump doesn’t want them to. The trouble is that what is good for America would be good for Biden, and what is good for Biden would be bad for Trump; whereas what’s bad for Biden would be good for Trump, and that’s all that matters.

The Verdict

The 83 million in damages verdict of jurors in the second
E. Jean Carroll defamation trial was an upbeat event, not only
because Trump was administered a strong dose of reality, but
also because it demonstrated how most people react to him when he’s up close and personal. He’ll be increasingly up close and personal to a lot of people during the months ahead, inspiring a lot more revulsion than fawning praise.

Republican Priorities

Headline: “Talks over Ukraine aid, border deal are on the rocks after Trump comments.” Trump wants things to go badly for the United States this year. The worse the better. Anything that makes Biden look bad improves the odds that Trump will beat him in the election. Congressional Republicans were on the verge of cementing a deal with Democrats, who had made extraordinary concessions to Republicans in order to secure aid for Ukraine, but Trump told them to knock it off, and they feel they must comply. Their leader has instructed them that winning elections is more important than doing what’s right for our country and for the world. It doesn’t occur to them to resist him. They’re that kind of people.

Why So Many Republicans Are Ready to Ditch the Constitution, and accept Authoritarian Rule

Republican support comes from a number of groups with special interests. Three examples are forced birth proponents, anti-gun regulations proponents, and proponents of tax policies that favor the rich and especially the super rich.

2. Demographics have been changing so that increasing numbers of people find Democratic policies more in accord with their thinking than Republican policies.

3. Republicans are in danger of becoming the minority power in an increasingly democratic country.

4. Dominant thought among Republicans is that the only solution to this problem is to ditch the Constitution, and accept authoritarian rule.

What the American People Are Sick and Tired of

Bernie Sanders says, “The American people are sick and tired of CEOs making nearly 350 times more than their average employee,” but he’s missing the problem, which is that the American people aren’t sick and tired of how CEOs are making such obscene amounts — they’re not that well informed. They feel left out and ignored and not able to keep up and don’t know why. They think something should change. They think that maybe Trump would do better. Something’s got to change. They don’t realize that what’s needed is a much more progressive taxation and subsidy structure, something they will never get from Trump or a Republican-controlled- (or blovked-) Congress, but would be possible if Democrats controlled the White House and both branches of Congress.

Autocracy Will Accelerate the March to Plutocracy

Most people haven’t shared equitably in the nation’s wealth creation over the past few decades. The rich and super rich have gained increasingly greater political power, which has enabled them to bring about the more regressive tax and subsidy policy that is primarily responsible for the feeling of economic oppression many are experiencing. It’s the rich and especially the superrich who are feasting on an entire pride of lions’ share of the vibrant economy and stock market. If elected, Trump and his autocrat-tolerating allies won’t reverse the march to plutocracy, they will accelerate it.

A Reality and What Must Be Done About It

The noted psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the stages people go through in confronting oncoming death. The first stage is denial. Later come anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

Every informed citizen of good will is facing the prospect of the death of American democracy at the hands of an aspiring dictator and his supporters, including virtually every power-holder in the Republican Party. The psychological reaction to this is that it can’t be happening. But it is, and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance won’t do. Citizens of good will must vote in numbers sufficient to defeat Trump and his ilk at the polls. Otherwise, American Democracy will be dead by a year from today.

How Republicans Think:

Keep your priorities straight, guys:

We can’t make a deal with Democrats that addresses the Border problem because it would make Biden look good.”

“We have to block aid and let Putin conquer Ukraine because it will make Biden look bad.”

Money, Politics, Power, Plutocracy

The great majority of people haven’t shared equitably in the nation’s wealth creation over the past few decades. The rich and super rich have gained increasingly greater political power, which has enabled them to bring about the more regressive tax and subsidy policy that is primarily responsible for the feeling of economic oppression many are experiencing. It’s the rich and especially the superrich who are enjoying an entire pride of lions’ share of the vigorous economy and booming stock market. If elected, Trump and his allies won’t reverse course. They will be drill-masters, calling out the cadence, stepping up the pace on the march to plutocracy.

You Can Rely on Trump

A remarkable thing about Trump is that he isn’t pretending that he will be a responsible leader who will work tirelessly for the welfare of all Americans, appoint the most qualified and honorable people to federal offices, seek imaginative new ways to combat climate change, work to preserve and nourish our ecosystems so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will inherit a peaceful, beautiful, sustainable planet, strengthen our ties with democracies abroad, and work to achieve peace, security, and justice throughout the world.

Another type of scoundrel might make a pitch like that, but, if nothing else, Trump is forthright, assuring us that he will do everything he can to turn our country into an autocracy, replace anyone not totally loyal to him with someone who is, seek revenge against his political opponents and critics, and demonstrate that his overriding goal in governing will be that of furthering his own self-interest. That’s what he promises, and that’s what he’ll deliver. You can rely on it. If that’s what you want, Trump’s your man.

Depressing Headlines of the Day

“Johnson Digs in Against Border Deal to
Unlock Ukraine Aid, Defying Biden”

“Justices Skeptical of Landmark Precedent
Underpinning Many U.S. Regulations”

Read. Be informed. Never Despair.

A.I. , Jobs, and Fairness

Headline: “IMF report: 40 percent of jobs exposed to AI.”Exposed to” doesn’t exactly mean “will be taken over by,” but it seems likely that there will be a wave of A.I.-caused job obsolescence over the next couple of decades. Imagine, for example, that Ford Motor Company suddenly needs only half as many factory and clerical workers to build just as many just as good cars. Let’s say that this advance in productivity causes profits to quadruple. What happens to these extra billions of dollars, and what happens to the, let’s say, tens of thousands of workers put out of work? Without some enlightened policy implementation, ordinary people will be financially oppressed, the rich will get much richer, and the super rich will get super richer still.

Ukraine

While Republicans in Iowa risked frostbite to vote for the man who would keep migrants from poisoning the blood of our country, Ukrainians were, as always, struggling to hold off Russian invaders. Republicans are choking U.S. aid A negotiated settlement is out of the question as long as there’s a chance that Trump will regain power. Biden should draw on frozen Russian assets if necessary to fund Ukrainians in defense of their country. The risk of acting is less than that of passivity.

Religious Perversion

Proclamation on the back of a man’s jacket in Iowa: “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my President.” All it will take for there to be no hope for the world is for there to be enough religious perversion.

A System Rigged to Benefit the Rich and Powerful: an Example:

Robert Reich is tireless in compiling statistics that expose the
plutocrat-tilted character of our nation’s tax and subsidy policy. For example, he reported the other day that people making twenty million dollars a year only have social security taxes withheld for a few days before they have reached the cap, but ordinary workers have taxes withheld for the antire year. This morning, he reported that in 41 out of 50 US states, the richest one percent pay at a lower tax rate than any other income group. So it is that the rich get ever richer and the super rich get ever super richer.

Trump’s Method

Trump’s method is to repeat his lies so often and so passionately and publicize them so broadly and with such conviction that great numbers of people are persuaded that they must be true. The historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat notes that the propaganda he spews is designed to “emotionally retrain Americans to see violence as positive and even patriotic.” We can expect Trump to employ his method ever more stridently as the election approaches.

The Grand Intimidator

Last evening, Chris Hayes delivered a sampling of incidents of threats and violence perpetrated by MAGA loyalists and played clips of Trump inciting such conduct. The latest was a threat to bomb the home of the judge overseeing the fraud trial concerning the Trump Organization in New York.

There are a lot of potential thugs in this country that feel inhibited about committing criminal acts until a demagogue gives them permission to go ahead. If justice is to prevail — if American democracy is to survive — the tactics of the grand intimidator must fail.

Educating the Electorate

People of good will must work to get it across to voters what will happen to our country if Trump gets back in office. The electorate should understand that a Trump presidency wouldn’t just be blustering, snarling, and swaggering, it would be the military suppressing peaceful demonstrations, uniformed thugs arresting people and deporting them, the Justice Department prosecuting Trump’s critics and opponents, a regime in which corruption is the norm, friends are favored, foes are harassed and prosecuted, America’s leadership on the world stage ends, and, given the way Trump’s rhetoric and behavior have been trending, this would only be the beginning of the horrors that would ensue.

Will Voters Hear? Will they Listen?

Headline: “Trump warns of ‘bedlam,’ declines to rule out violence after court hearing.” At the court hearing, Trump’s lawyer argued that, as President, Trump had permanent absolute immunity from prosecution for any crime he committed or commits. Just getting this enormity across to a sizable majority of voters should be enough to ensure Trump’s defeat in upcoming election. It outweighs all other considerations. Will the news get to voters? Will they listen?

The Political Stakes

Try as hard as I can, I have trouble realizing that Republicans from top to bottom have almost unanimously chosen to be vassals to a vicious thoroughly dishonorable individual who is trying to deal a mortal blow to American democracy. Every person of good will, regardless of party or policy preferences, should do what they can to bring about Biden’s reelection. Trump’s return to office would be a tragedy of unimaginable magnitude.

The Plight of the Local Newspaper, Revisited

A few days ago, I suggested that my local newspaper might have
avoided publishing my letter to the editor because it was too
strongly worded. I was concerned because letters dated after mine
had been published, but mine hadn’t. My letter did appear yesterday.
I hadn’t realized that the dates shown when letters are printed are
the dates when they appear, not the dates when they are submitted.
I’m relieved that the editors are more liberal as to what they will
print than I had feared.

Wealth and Income Inequality.

Income and wealth inequality have passed the tipping point.The super rich don’t just have multiple houses, fancier cars, and out-sized travel and entertainment budgets; they rule the world, albeit in many countries in conjunction with authoritarian leaders. It’s long been said that “money talks.” In the case of the super rich, money controls. Robert Reich points out that “America’s billionaires are now worth $5.2 trillion dollars. If merely half of that had been taxed, these people would still be fantastically rich, and America could have brought some of it most pressing problems, like homelessness, under control.

It’s past time for military support to Israel to be conditional

The stated moral of Churchill’s history of World War II was “In War: Resolution, In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity; In Peace: Goodwill”

It’s time for Israel to express Magnanimity and offer the prospect of Goodwill. It’s time for the United States to insist that the right-wing authoritarian Israeli leaders stop waging continuing death and destruction in Gaza and begin working toward permanent peace and reconciliation. Israel has taken ten eyes for an eye, and ten teeth for a tooth. That’s more than enough.

The Plight of the Local Newspaper

I sent the text of my new year’s day blog as a letter to the editor of our local paper, but they haven’t printed it even though they’ve printed letters sent after mine, including ones from distant locations.

Local and regional newspapers are vital to a healthy democracy, but that requires that the newspapers themselves are healthy — morally and financially. That’s not always easy for management fearful of being accused of being biased. In some cases, their editors may think it’s best to avoid sensitive issues, like whether American democracy will survive for another year.

Trump’s Claim of Immunity

Trump would like to have the Supreme Court declare that he is immune from prosecution for any act he committed while he was president. There is nothing in the Constitution to support such a claim. It goes against all reason and against all history. Even a court dominated by extreme right-wing justices is unlikely to accede to it. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be dismissed as frivolous, an irresponsible imposition on the Court’s time.

This episode, yet to fully play out, reminds me of one of the few quotations I remember from a judicial opinion, that of judge, later United States Supreme Court Justice, Benjamin Cardozo. Holding the defendant liable in the case, he wrote: “A fiduciary is held to something higher than the standard of the market place.”

The President of the United States is without question a fiduciary, one whose duty is to uphold and protect and defend the Constitution and to serve the people. Trump should be held to something higher than the standard of the marketplace; yet he claims that he should be held to no standard at all. What a dreary pass we’ve come to that he enjoys so much support.

Perversity Writ Large

Trump’s standing with Republican voters rose in synch with revelations of his
apparent criminality. He became even more favored as he was indicted in various state and federal jurisdictions. Presumably his popularity with Republican voters will reach even greater heights if he is convicted. And if he is sentenced to be incarcerated, they will be eager to crown him as king.

Authoritarianism vs. Democracy

The text of the blog I posted late yesterday is that of a letter I sent to the editor of the dominant newspaper in my region. As Rachel Maddow has pointed out, once people get drawn to authoritarianism, it hardly matters who the dear leader is. Almost any bozo will do. In 2023 authoritarianism made gains in India and Israel, segued into a full-blown dictatorship in China, consolidated in Russia, reared up frighteningly in Argentina, but yielded some ground in Brazil and Poland. It was heartening to read this headline last night; “Israel’s Top Court Strikes Down Move to Curb Its Powers” The struggle continues in our own country this year, ferociously.

2024 — The Fateful Year Ahead

This new year begins with the reality facing us: The almost certain presidential nominee of one of our two major parties has no sense of public responsibility, traffics in lies, vengeance, and cruelty, and has been indicted on a total 91 felony counts in four federal and state jurisdictions. Whenever he speaks, he reveals himself to be a practiced demagogue and aspiring dictator. Claiming to be the victim is his way of victimizing others. “They are not after me,” he tells his followers. “They are after you, and I’m standing in their way.”

For tens of millions, he gives vent to frustrations, grievances, and confusions that have so preoccupied them that they don’t understand that, if he regains power, American democracy will end. The saddest thing is that Republican politicians have abandoned their moral principles to gain favor with his followers.

2024 will be a year in which, as Lincoln had occasion to say over a century and a half ago, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” 

Abandoning Ukraine, Continued

Headline: “E.U.’s own rules let Hungary…sink a $52 billion package {for Ukraine}”

There’s a real danger that Ukraine will die from a thousand cuts.

Abandoning Ukraine

The consequences of Republicans blocking continuing aid to Ukraine may be destructive in the extreme. What a tragedy for Ukraine, for our country, for the Western alliance, and for the world.

Republicans on Continuing Aid to Ukraine

This blog is on break until the first of the year, but I’m taking a break from the break to say this:

Republicans are blocking continuing aid to Ukraine until Democrats meet their demands with regard to border security legislation. This is a form of extortion, which should be abhorrent to any person of good will. It’s also a lavish Christmas present to Vladimir Putin.

Blog on Break

This blog will be on break for the rest of December. I plan to resume it on January 1.

The River, The Salmon, and the Libertarian Capitalists

I read that the 2000-mile-long Yukon River is no longer the habitat for plenteous stocks of salmon. Millions of people have been losing access to this nutritious delicious food. People with plenty of money aren’t deprived. Libertarian capitalism works for them, so they claim that over-regulation is responsible for our ills, including declining stocks of salmon.

Trump’s Method of Saying Things

Headline: “The former president declared his 2024 campaign as a ‘righteous crusade’ against ‘tyrants and villains’” Trump’s method of saying things requires little effort on his part. It requires no more than accusing others of his own invidious qualities.

Netanyahu

The most astute Middle East experts I’m familiar with agree that Netanyahu has been a terrible leader and will be ousted from power after the Hamas war ends. Unfortunately, he has a big incentive to perpetuate the war.

The Horror in Plain View.


Headline: “Israel knew Hamas’s attack plan more than a year ago.”

They didn’t take it seriously.

Headline: “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable.”

Take it seriously.

The Basic Theme of Biden’s Campaign

There are dozens of sufficient reasons to support and vote for Joe Biden in next year’s presidential election. As to the central theme of his campaign, as Jennifer Rubin pointed out yesterday, it can be very simple: “Do not let the lunatic threatening to destroy our constitution back in power.”

That said, “lunatic,” standing alone, may be an overly neutral word. Better, I think, would be: “Do not let the deranged, malevolent, aspiring despot threatening to destroy our constitution back in power.”

Preferences of Voting Factions and What Shouldn’t Go Without Saying

I keep seeing headlines announcing various factions’s displeasure with Biden. This morning, one read: “Why Arab-Americans don’t want to vote for Biden.” Add them all up, and almost nobody wants to vote for Biden. You get the feeling that everyone will vote for his opponent.

I never see an article about how some faction wouldn’t want to vote for Trump. Nobody says they don’t want to vote for Trump. It goes without saying that you wouldn’t want to vote for a dangerous, sociopathic, swaggeringly vicious demagogue who wants to end American democracy and and replace it with his distinctively corrupt crazed brand of authoritarian rule.

It shouldn’t go without saying.

Demagogues and Fertile Ground

Rachel Maddow has pointed out that no aspiring dictator can take control of a country unless conditions are ripe for it. The populace has to be confused, frustrated, and desperate for a power-wielder who will somehow set things straight.

Plutocratic Power

Robert Reich is outstanding at pointing to statistics that underlie the malaise that infects people and renders them vulnerable to demagogic propagandizing, e.g.: “CEO pay has skyrocketed 1,209% since 1978, while typical worker pay grew by just 15%.” Money is power. More money enables accrual of more power.

The Trumpian Agenda: Truth Destruction, Word Meaning Destruction; Repetition; Truth Destruction; Repetition

Create chaos. Blame chaos on your enemies, the shameless people who are persecuting you. Only you can remedy their disastrous policies. Call them Fascists. Call them Vermin. Lie continually. Accuse them of spreading vicious lies. Accuse them of destroying democracy. Viciously attack them. Decry them for viciously attacking you. Repeat. They are Fascists. They are Communists. They are Marxists. They are Corrupt. They are so very, very corrupt. They are traitors. Shame on them. They have no shame. You are a victim, but you won’t give in. You’ll never give in. You’ll never give up fighting for the American people.

Two Outstanding Journalists and the Year Ahead

Last evening, I watched a rebroadcast of Chris Hayes’s recent interview of Rachael Maddow before an audience at Town Hall, in New York. The subject was our country’s vulnerability to falling under authoritarian rule, which is also the subject of Maddow’s new book, Prequel. Maddow warned that 2024 will be a weird and hard year. and that if it doesn’t go well, every year after that for the foreseeable future will be a weird and hard year.

Do American Youths Have a Sense of Proportion?

Headline: “Biden’s resistance to cease-fire could alienate youth voters in 2024” “Alienate”? That sounds like youth voters wouldn’t just disagree with Biden on this, or be disappointed that he hasn’t acted as they wish he had, but that they would turn against him. What would that entail? Not voting, or voting for Trump? Are American youths really so extreme or stupid that they will act the way the headline implies? Are they so lacking in a sense of proportion that “Biden’s resistance to a cease-fire” would be enough to switch their support to the swaggering sociopathic aspiring dictator who haa been indicted on 91 felony counts in four federal and state jurisdictions?

We Don’t Want Nothing To Be Thankful for a Year from Now.

It’s critical that all people of good will, and especially the media, get across to everyone who doesn’t understand it already that Trump is a deranged vicious sociopath who should be soundly defeated at every turn and afforded no special privilege in judicial proceedings. Examples would fill volumes. He recently vowed to investigate NBC an MSNBC for “treason” and warned of “death and destruction” if he is convicted of crimes.

The Bad News Keeps Piling In, Cont.

I think the pervasive feeling of unease in this country has a lot to do with the unfavorable ratio of bad news to good news. I picked off the following headlines from online breaking news:

Federal judges overturn Md. handgun licensing law.

Oil spill tops 1 million gallons, threatens Gulf of Mexico wildlife.

A growing global footprint for China’s space program worries Pentagon.

Dean Phillips supporters launch ads attacking Biden’s electability.

There was one good news item. (Take what you can get, I guess): “Costa Rica’s coast guard rescues hundreds of sea turtle eggs.”

The Bad News Keeps Piling In

Last evening on her MSNBC show, Rachael Maddow detailed the apparent transition of the dominant Hispanic media company, Univision, from a responsible journalistic enterprise into a pro-Trump propaganda outlet. One can only darkly speculate as to how and why this happened. It’s a disturbing development.

A Distant Mirror

A man just won the presidential election in Argentina who is an absolute madman, eerily like Trump. It’s a tragic event for Argentina and an ominous one for the U.S. Voters were frustrated with inflation and economic problems and susceptible to a wild man who promised to shake things up. Trump, of course, was delighted, and congratulated this fellow, saying he would make Argentina great again.

I’m reminded of the the title of the historian Barbars Tuchman’s book: The Fourteenth Century: A Distant Mirror.

The State of the Nation and the Communications Gap

It’s glaringly obvious that Trump is a dangerous sociopath. That there’s a frightening chance that he might win the presidential election next year seems inexplicable. Robert Reich offers clues to this phenomenon in a recent Facebook posting. The economy is doing fine, but the rise of wealth inequality has increasingly disadvantaged most families relative to their economic status decades ago. Housing prices and mortgage interest rates have risen so much in relation to incomes that young families can’t afford to buy homes. The American dream is slipping away. Republicans — Trumpians — claim that this is Biden’s fault, and that Trump would fix it. It doesn’t matter that the problem issues from Republican-driven plutocratic-friendly tax, subsidy, and regulatory policy and that Trump wouldn’t fix it. Millions will vote for Republicans because Republicans are better at propagandizing than Biden is at getting across what’s happened in this country and what tragic consequences would ensue if Trump returns to the White House.

Trump’s Designs Unmasked

Now that Trump has removed any last scrap of doubt that he will be unrestrained in setting up a fascist dictatorship if he returns to the White House, to quote Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin; “responsible media outlets now have an obligation to blanket the airwaves with coverage of Trump’s designs.”

Trump’s Way, Continued

Trump: “We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections.”

It is darkly fascinating that Trump is making no pretense that he would behave responsibly if elected; that he would adhere to the Constitution and work to further the best interests of all Americans; that he would seek capable, dedicated, honorable people to serve in his cabinet, the judiciary, and in other offices; and that, echoing Lincoln, he would serve with malice toward none, charity for all.

Making lofty, inspiring, noble promises is not Trump’s way. His way is swaggering viciousness. Unless an astonishing number of voters have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear, he will not be elected president.

Trump’s Way

Trump: “We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections.”

It is darkly fascinating that Trump is making no pretense that he would behave responsibly if elected; that he would adhere to the Constitution and work to further the best interests of all Americans; that he would seek capable, dedicated, honorable people to serve in his cabinet, the judiciary, and in other offices; and that, echoing Lincoln, he would serve with charity for all and malice toward none.

Making lofty, inspiring, noble promises is not Trump’s way. His way is snarling swaggering viciousness. Unless an astonishing number of voters have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear, he will not be elected president.

Speaker Johnson’s Character is on Display

I saw a TV clip this morning of House Speaker Mike Johnson endorsing Trump for president, once again demonstating his moral unfitness.

Utter Depravity

Hamas — the heavily armed rulers of Gaza — exhibited an example of utter depravity that will live in history in waging war on Israel with full understanding that the almost certain consequence of doing so would be to bring about massive death, devastation, and suffering upon their own people.

Honest Mike

MIke Johnson, the new Speaker of the House, contrary to his oath of office, has honestly admitted that he will uphold and defend and be guided by the Bible rather than the Constitution and laws of the United States. Since there’s a great multiplicity of ways of interpreting passages of the Bible, Johnson is in effect saying that he will be guided by — do whatever — he damn well wants.

Honest Don

Headline: “Trump says on Univision he could weaponize FBI, DOJ against his enemies” You could almost call it a virtue of Trump: announcing that he wants to convert the U.S. form of government into a fascist dictatorship. The usual criteria in a Presidential election are secondary. The 2024 election is primarily a referendum: Do you want the U.S. to continue to be a constitutional democracy or convert it into a fascisst dictatorship?

Defective Thinkers

Senseless, reckless, irresponsible, hubristic, narcissistic, (and add a few congenial adjectives of your own selection from a dictionary of synonyms) describes the third party, fourth party, fifth party, and sixth party presidential runs of Jill Stein (Green Party), Joe Lieberman (organizer of the “No Labels” Party – candidate to be selected); Robert F Kennedy Jr. (Vaccines are Bad for You Party), and Cornel West (Syphon off Votes from Biden Party)

The Great Challenge of Our Time

According to Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin — and I think it’s obvious that she’s right — the great challenge of our time is “reintegrating millions of Americans into reality-based, pro-democracy politics.” Tuesday’s elections suggest that this process may have begun.

Support for Ukraine

Reluctance to continuing to support Ukraine, typified by the glaringly wrong-on-every-issue new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, is directly contrary to U.S. strategic interests and elementary moral principles. Negotiating an end of the Ukraine – Russia war has zero chance of progress, much less success, while Putin thinks Trump has a fair chance of becoming the U.S. president. We must not falter in supporting Ukraine.

The 2024 Election Is Just a Year Away

According to a recent reputable poll, Trump is leading Biden in five of six key swing states. The dynamics of this race have to change if democracy is to survive. That should be possible, as Trump’s swaggering viciousness becomes increasingly on display.

Whatever You Can

New York Times online headline: “Poll finds Trump leading Biden in
5 key states.” What a way to start the day. As if there weren’t enough bad news to be found everywhere you look. What can you do when the unthinkable becomes normal? Answer: Whatever you can and refuse to become cynical or succumb to despair.

Israel’s Dilemma

Israel’s Dilemma isn’t so much that Hamas is holding a few hundred Israelis as hostages. It’s that Hamas is holding two million Palestinians as hostages and that Hamas fighters, weapons, and ammunition are embedded in the civilian population, so it’s not possible for Israel to destroy Hamas without destroying so many Palestinians that not only Arab populations but world opinion views Israel as the guilty party rather than Hamas, even though Hamas ignited the war by launching a vicious surprise attack on Israel. Israel would have done better to have spoken not just of Israeli hostages, but also of the two million Palestinian hostages, and tried to turn Palestinian sentiment against Hamas.

The Man Who Is Even More Repulisve than Trump, Concluded

Trump would be nothing without people like the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, who have chosen to embrace the Trumpian agenda to advance their careers, as they see it. Johnson is determined to withdraw U.S.support for Ukraine, exactly what Trump wants and exactly what Putin wants. Johnson unreservedly supports authoritarian brutalists in their great confrontations with liberal democratic societies. To borrow the title of the final book written by the late journalist Tony Judt, ill fares the land.

The Man Who Is Even More Repulisve than Trump, Continued

The new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, thinks that underfunding the IRS — hampering its efforts to audit and collect taxes from rich tax cheats — is so vitally important that he coupled it with an aid-to-Israel bill. Chris Hayes described this stunt as a caricature of MAGA behavior. And so it is: so crude, so wrongheaded, and so ill-portending as to defy analysis. It’s what might be expected from the spotlessly groomed, courteous, soft-spoken man who is even more repulsive than Trump.

The Man Who Is Even More Repulsive than Trump

It’s the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, who has been rightly called the most important architect of Congressional efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s repulsiveness is openly displayed. It is manifest in his facial expressions, his writings, his utterances, his hair, his body language, and (to borrow a phrase coined by Jill Lapore) his swaggering viciousness.

Mike Johnson’s repulsiveness exceeds Trump’s repulsiveness because it is hidden. Johnson’s abhorrent nature and authoritarian ambition is cloaked with Christian piety and rectitude. He is the most clean-cut looking member of Congress, yet the most dangerous.

Netanyahu

Headline: “Israel’s massive democracy movement turns its focus to war.”

What a relief for Netanyahu.

A Smart Way for Israel to Wage the War with Hamas

To my surprise, I found myself in agreement with the plan of a former Israeli prime minister, as related to Bret Stephens and set forth in his New York Times column today. I won’t try to summarize it here — it’s worth reading. I’ll just say that it involves Israel establishing a security strip on the Hamas side of the border and severing northern Gaza from southern Gaza. It’s sensitive to humanitarian concerns for Gazan civilians, and there’s no way Hamas could claim that it’s aggression paid off.

The Election of a New Speaker: A Glaring Snapshot of American Democracy at Bay

Headline: “Representative Mike Johnson played a leading role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election.” Yet every Republican member of the House of Representatives voted to elect this man Speaker of the House. The radically anti-democratic aspiring fascist autocrat-supporting character of the Republican Party has never been so brilliantly illuminated. Our national agony seems destined to intensify during the coming year.

Notes from Surreal Land

It’s surreal that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives can’t elect a Speaker who isn’t approved by a sociopath facing 91 felony counts in criminal proceedingsin four federal and state jurisdictions and is stopping at nothing in his efforts to become the dictator of the United States. It’s surreal, but tragically has real consequences.

What Israel Should Do

Instead of conflating the Palestinian people in Gaza with Hamas, Israel should be trying to drive a wedge between them. I get the impression that by now Israel has inflicted more than twice as much death, destruction, and suffering on Gazans than Hamas has inflicted on Israel. Rather than perpetuate, intensify, and thereby promote the revenge and death spiral, Israel should declare the war to be over and take magnanimous steps and show good will toward Palestinians, at the same time warning Hamas that resumed attacks on Israel will met with at least twice as much death and destruction in return.

“The hour is late”

writes Tom Friedman in a New York Times column this morning laying out how extremely dangerous the situation is with extremist rage ruling decision making in all quarters in an arena of widening enmities spawned by the confrontation between Israel and Hamas. There seems to be little hope that what must be done will be done.

Heartbreak

There’s so much heartbreak in Israel and Gaza. There was no way it would be possible for Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s Trumpian type prime minister, to rise above the knee-jerk reaction of wanting to wipe out Hamas, which cannot be accomplished without wiping out much of the population of Gaza. So much death and destruction has been wrought that most people on both sides are seeking revenge. The more revenge, the more heartbreak. A terrible chain reaction is in process.

Hate and Its Mutant Form — Violence

Headline: “Ken Buck, (R) Colorado, says he has received four death threats.” Buck is a solid right-wing Republican Congressman, but he deserves execution for failing to follow orders from a would-be Fuhrer to vote for Jim Jordan for Speaker of the House. Hate seems to be more infectious than Covid. The virus escaped from the mouths of Donald Trump, Steven Bannon, Fox News hosts, strident right-wing radio talk show hosts, and many others. It’s now more widespread than ever, and known to mutate into violence.

The Gaza Hospital Explosion

The hospital explosion in Gaza that killed hundreds enormously complicates the Hamas-Israel war. Nothing will convince militant Islamists that this horrendous event was Israel’s doing, even though it would have been madness — utterly against Israel’s own interest — to have instigated such an attack. More than ever, Israel needs to surprise the world with a dramatic peace initiative, without, however, casting doubt on its determination to deter future aggression.

Today is One of those Fateful Days

The Repbulican-controlled House of Representatives will try to elect a Speaker of the House today. It will be a grim turn of events if there aren’t enough Republican defenders of American democracy (only four or five are needed, I believe) to defeat the proto-fascist, Trump loyalist, leading candidate, Jim Jordan.

What Israel Should Do Now, Continued

I’m glad that President Biden, as well as New York Times veteran Middle East expert Tom Friedman agree with me. Israel should not invade Gaza. Netanyahu should resign. Israel should adopt a new imaginative policy rather than react in a knee-jerk dumb-headed way that would be profoundly contrary to Israel’s interests and to everyone else’s interests except those of religious fanatics, predatory autocrats, and their admirers and emulators.

What I Think Israel Should Do Now

Israel seems to be fixated on gaining total victory in the war with Hamas. They can achieve this, albeit at terrible and horrifying cost, especially to people situate in the Gaza strip. The long-term repercussions from carrying out this policy wiould be unimaginably disastrous. I think that once Israel has inflicted on the people of the Gaza strip twice as much death, destruction, and suffering as it incurred in Hamas’s surprise attack and in the following days — something that has probably already happened — Israel should declare the war over, except for vigorous self-defense and counter attacks as needed, and adopt a new policy of seeking peace, comity, and tolerance with its neighbors, accompanied by getting the message to the world, and particularly to every Palestinian in the Gaza strip, that Israel seeks peace and friendship with Palestinians, but that any death, destruction, and suffering inflicted on Israel by Hamas will be met with twice as much death, destruction, and suffering inflicted in return. Palestinians in the Gaza strip must understand that they have nothing to fear from Israel, and that every attack by Hamas on Israel amounts to being a worse attack by Hamas on its own people.

The Speaker of the House Problem, Continued

The leading candidate to be Speaker of the House is Representative Jim Jordan, a man who is on the same moral plane (the bottom one) as Donald Trump. Thankfully, it appears that enough Republican representatives can’t stomach him, as can no Democrat, so that Jordan will not be elected as Speaker. Now is the time for a half dozen — all it would take — responsible Republican members of the House to make a deal with the Democrats as to who will assume the Speakership. Since Republicans comprise a majority in the House, let the Speaker be a responsible Republican, one of the kind most of them used to be. The questions remain, though, are there enough of them? Are there any?

The Speaker of the House Problem

Republicans control the House of Representatives, but they haven’t been able to agree among themselves as to whom they should elect as Speaker. Given the critical position of the Speaker in our political system, this is an unprecedented disaster. Congress is paralyzed. Our country is humiliated. The situation could be almost instantly reversed if only five or six Republican members of the House united with Democrats to choose a Speaker. One of these responsible Republicans could be the new Speaker.

These Republicans who chose Country over Party would incur the wrath of Republicans who boost or tolerate Trump and his like. That is to say that they would be heroes. If such a handful of responsible Republican members of the House can’t be found, prospects for our country are grimmer than they appear to be.

Hamas’s War on Israel: Hostages

The central problem is that Hamas is holding two million
civilian Palestinian people living in the Gaza strip as hostages.
I don’t see how Israel can wipe out Hamas without wiping out
an unthinkable number of innocent people.

Hamas’s War on Israel

New York Times Middle East expert Tom Friedman had a column yesterday that hit a lot of nails on their heads.

Netanyahu, an aspiring autocrat, has courted Israeli extremists to protect himself from criminal prosecution and stay in power.

2. Netanyahu has practiced apartheid and bullied Palestinians living in the West Bank

3. Israel’s disarray and unpreparedness for Hamas’s attack is to a large degree a consequence of Netanyahu’s behavior in these respects.

3. Israel and Saudi Arabia, with the encouragement of the U.S., have been working toward a rapprochement and normalization of their relationship.

4. Extremists enemies of Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran —are revolted and infuriated by this development.

5. It appears that the only way that Hamas thought that it could stop this from happening would be to launch last weekend’s horrific attack on Israel. There was, of course, no chance that Hamas could conquer Israel or prevail against it. Their purpose was to provoke Israel into massive retaliation, inflicting so much death and suffering upon Palestinian civilians that sympathy for Israel would turn into hostility, and the chances for a rapprochement would evaporate into thin air.

6. Hamas is led by people who are willing to bring about mass pain and suffering on their compatriots to achieve their nihilistic goal.

7. Netanyahu would serve everyone’s interest by pursuing an enlightened and civil policy toward Palestinians living in the West Bank, working to strengthen, rather than undermine, Israel’s democratic institutions, exercising forbearance in retaliating against Hamas, and pursuing rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

8. Given Netanyahu’s record and his rhetoric, it’s more likely that he will play into Hamas’s hands and do just what they want him to.

The Nihilist Creed

In carrying out their horrific attack on Israel, Hamas leaders must have felt satisfaction in wielding vengeance. In ignoring that, as a consequence, massive suffering and death would be inflicted on their own people, they showed that they possess not a scrap of moral purpose. Death and destruction is their source of satisfaction. Pure nihilism is their creed.

Trump Tolerators:

Memo to Republican members of Congress and all others are who aren’t among the tens of millions of deluded people who lack access outside a bubble of ignorance and misinformation: Failing to publicly denounce Trump is morally indefensible.

The Speaker of the House Problem Solution

Take whatever the number is — about five, I think — honorable House Republicans and add the entire Democratic caucus, thereby forming a majority of members of the House, and elect one of the honorable Republicans Speaker on his or her promise to carry out the functions of his office in a responsible, honorable, competent way. The vast majority of the other House Republicans would condemn, ostracize, and “primary” their “traitorous” colleagues, but the institution of Congress and American Democracy would be saved. The honorable Republicans would be hailed as heroes by all people of good will. Some might lose their Congressional seats in primary contests, but they would all have gained a lot more than they lost.
Question: Are there enough honorable Republicans in the House for this to happen?

Ukraine / Putin / Trump

The case for supporting Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression is overwhelming. Why are so many Republicans intent on blocking funds for this cause? Apparently, they hold this position because Trump does, and to maintain support from MAGA cult voters, they have to do Trump’s bidding. Trump favors cutting off aid to Ukraine because he wants to stay in Putin’s good graces. Putin helped Trump win the 2016 election, and it’s certain he’ll do what he can to help Trump win in 2024. Trump is an aspiring dictator. Putin is his role model. Republicans impeding U.S. efforts to support Ukraine have volunteered to be their servants.

The Shutdown Specter

As I understand it, the 45-day extension of funding the government ends on November 17th. Given the total disarray of the Republican House caucus and the lack of any prospect of a new Speaker of the House being elected, it’s hard to see how a shutdown won’t occur next month.

The Foolhardiness (or Iniquity) of Trump Supporters

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin says it well; If Trump wins next year’s election, we’ll have an “unhinged, vengeful, incoherent, dangerous neo-fascist president.”

The Government Stumbles On

The government won’t shut down for at least 45 days. This is cause for some measure of relief, but not for joy. Authorization for an aid package for Ukraine was omitted. Several senators from both parties have promised to work to retain it, a commitment that doesn’t rise to the level of being reassuring. The fate of the world is vulnerable to the tyranny of a minority of nihilists, including ones in the Congress of the Untied States.

America’s Tragic Problem

Trump is the noxious core of America’s tragic problem, but he would be reduced to being just another serial criminal if the problem didn’t dwarf him in its scope. As Mitt Romney told Romney’s biographer, McKay Coppins: ”A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.” For the Republican Party to once again be responsible and honorable would likely require repeated overwhelming electoral defeats followed by its reconstitution by people committed to far higher standards than those adhered to by the Trump cult.

Shutdowners

Do Republican members of Congress who prefer to follow the bidding of the disgraced aspiring authoritarian former president charged with 91 felony counts in four federal and state criminal proceedings rather than their duty to our country realize that Vladimir Putin will not only be raising a glass of champagne to toast them when the government of the United States shuts down; he’ll also be laughing at what fools they are.

Last Night’s Republican Candidates Debate

Once again the contestants made clear that they are unfit to run for the Republican nomination by failing to denounce Trump as a vicious aspiring autocrat whose return to the White House would end American Democracy and subject our country to Fascist rule.

The Root of a Lot of Problems

Lack of public understanding that wealth and income inequality underlie some of the biggest problems in the world. The upsurge in labor strikes this year suggests that this may be beginning to change. I hope so. Robert Reich gets the point across in a Facebook post: “The richest 1% took home nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world put together over the past two years.” I wish he had a larger audience.

The U. S. Presidential Election and the Ukraine War

It’s revealing about how desperately sick America is that Trump and Biden appear to be running neck and neck in the polls. Much is uncertain, but one thing that is certain is that there is no chance of a negotiated end to Russia’s war on Ukraine as long as Putin thinks that Trump might become president in January 2025. That would be Putin’s dream come true and a mortal blow to Ukraine.

Trump’s Way

Intimidation backed by violence at the right place and the right time. That’s the way of Trump and his allies. Deluded and aggrieved men and women with thuggish instincts are drawn to him like little bullies who gather in the wake of the big bully on the playground, admiring his swaggering viciousness* and eager to jab and taunt on their own. The only way to deal with Trump is to keep the wheels of justice grinding, and never slacken or back off.

——————————
* a description of a type of behavior for which I’m
indebted to Jill Lapore

Shut Down

Headline: “The Wrecking-Ball Caucus: How the Far Right Brought Washington to Its Knees.” A government shutdown is bad for both factions, but one faction may cause the government to shut down to induce the opposing faction to make further concessions. That’s the inefficient and irresponsible way it used to work. The present situation is much worse. The faction that’s inducing the government shutdown (far right-wing extremist Republicans) isn’t interested in getting the other faction to make further concessions. They can get their way without them because their way is nihilism.

Menendez

The indictment of Democratic Senator Robert Menendez for bribery and corruption came close to being the saddest event of the week.* The damning details in the indictment make one wonder anew what drives some public servants who have had great success and luck in life to debase themselves, betray their constituents, damage their political party, and leave an ugly stain in their wake.

__________________
*The saddest was House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s refusal to allow Ukraine President Zelensky to address the House of Representatives.

Call It What It Is

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is poised to shut down the government for no reason other than spite and presumed political advantage. In the interests of transparency and truth-telling, the Republican Party should be called the Nihilist Party.

Republicans Aren’t Conservatives

That truth should sink in. As Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin has repeatedly pointed out, neo-fascist movements relying on widespread lies and conspiracies, demonization of minorities, repression of women, defense of lawlessness, and use of violence as an acceptable political tool is not conservative.

The Likely Deciding Factor of the 2024 Presidential Election

Trump made a speech aligning himself with striking auto workers. The outcome of the 2024 election seems likely turn on how many people can be conned.

Fascism’s Faithful Partner

Senator Mitt Romney’s disclosures that he spends about two million dollars a year providing security for himself and his family and that some Republican senators admitted that they voted against impeaching Trump only because they feared for their safety and that of their families, together with countless other reports of intimidation, threats, and harm inflicted on individuals who fail to put loyalty to Trump ahead of their civic and Constitutional duties, are revelatory of the ferociousness of the Fascist assault on American democracy. Thugism is Fascism’s faithful partner.

Ukraine

New York Times veteran foreign observer Thomas Friedman had a lengthy column yesterday stating his conclusions after a three-day visit to Ukraine. Friedman underscores that Putin is the personification of evil. My impression after reading this article and from other sources is that the outcome of the war is uncertain, but that certain things should be clear to the West:

1. Putin will continue to try to brutalize Ukraine into submission. He is likely in hopeful frame of mind, given recent military deals with Iran and North Korea.

2. We should supply Ukraine with all the weapons, equipment, training, and backup it needs as fast as possible. Concessions may be required to achieve peace, but what must never be conceded is Ukraine’s right as a sovereign nation to gain NATO’s guaranteed protection and freedom to join or align itself with NATO and the EU.

What’s Needed in the House of Representatives

I remember when the Marines had the clever recruiting slogan: “A Few Good Men.” What’s needed now in the House of Representatives is a few good Republicans — representatives who are willing to shun the Party’s policy of promoting chaos and support Democrats in preventing a government shutdown and continuing robust support of Ukraine in that country’s continuing fight to defend itself from Russian aggression.

Inequality and Demagoguery

Robert Reich points out: “The upward redistribution of wealth over the past 40 years has shifted $50 trillion from the bottom 90% to the top 1%.” No wonder so many Americans feel resentful, ignored, shunned, and desperate, and that somehow Trump, or DeSantis, or some other demagogue will set things right.

Averting Government Shutdown

Republicans control of the House by only a four-vote margin. Are there a handful of Republicans who could defy the MAGA cult that controls Republican Party and unite with Democrats to avert the looming shutdown? Maybe we’ll find out.The basic problem seems to be that Republican strategy is to create chaos and blame it on Biden. They’re doing pretty well at it.

The Nature of the Great Divide

On his MSNBC news show last evening, Chris Hayes exhibited a chart showing the percent of children in America living in poverty. It showed how child poverty was reduced from almost 20% to 5% by 2020 thanks to the child tax credit. When because of opposition of every Republican senator and Democratic senator Joe Manchin, this provision was not renewed when it expired in that year, child poverty more than doubled. As Hayes’s guest, Senator Cory Booker, noted, failure to renew the credit is a “moral obscenity.” This is particularly true in the context of the Trump tax cuts and tax breaks for corporations and the rich, and especially for the super rich, which have had a far greater impact on the deficit.

There is a great divide in this country, not between “conservatives” and “liberals,” but between people who are cynical, stingy, and greedy and people who care about the common good.

Thoughts That Come to Mind after Reading Dismaying Headlines

I see so many dismaying headlines these days, .e.g. “China Uses A.I. to Spread Lies about U.S. Fire;” “Kim pledges to back Putin’s ‘sacred struggle.’” We have so many serious problems in the world, yet House Speaker Kevin McCarthy acquiesces to the demands of the MAGA cult faction of his party, sanctioning impeachment inquiries of President Biden despite lack of a shred of evidence that he has committed “high crimes or misdemeanors.” Bad actors threaten democracy and threaten humankind abroad and at home.

Whale Talk

I much enjoyed Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sept. 11 New Yorker article on attempts to decode whale communication. The history of attempts to communicate with animals and understand what they are communicating among themselves is mostly one of hype and failure, but the scientists studying a population of sperm whales near the island of Dominica, in the Caribbean, may be on to something. If they can build up a big enough data base of the patterns of sounds these creatures make, coupled with the circumstances in which they make them, artificial intelligence may enable us to make sense of what they are saying. Some form of meaningful human-whale dialog may be possible.

A Matter of Equitable Redistribution

I read that there’s about $300 billion in Russian central-bank assets frozen in Western accounts. There’s only one proper destination for these funds: supporting and reconstructing Ukraine.

The Ecological Downspiral

Every week, it seems, I read an ecological horror story —a report of a trend that could doom humanity if it continues. This week the science magazine Nature reported that the world’s oceans have become 30% more acidic during the industrial era, that low-oxygen “dead” zones in the oceans have almost quadrupled since 1960, and that the amount of plastics in the oceans is approaching 150 million tons. Not mentioned were rising ocean temperatures. Human multi-national, fractured, distracted, cross-purposed political, economic, and militarily-aligned entities seem incapable of dealing with the ecological downspiral.

The Battle

I hope Robert Reich has a growing audience. He is one of the wisest and most knowledgeable commentators on public affairs. In his current series of lectures he addresses that most vexing of questions: Why have so many Americans succumbed to Trumpism? The answer is that Trump and his like-minded power-seekers have successfully held themselves out as fellow-victims and saviors of millions of people of people who feel mistreated, bullied, and confounded by “the system.” Trumpists, including scores of prominent Republican politicians, have adopted classic fascist techniques in their attempt to assert authoritarian control over our country. They will tell you, as will the good people who oppose them, that we are in a battle for the soul of our country.

Income and Wealth Inequality

This is a theme I come back to from time to time because it’s at the heart of much that’s wrong with the world. Robert Reich has been in the forefront of getting this point across. In recent post, he documented the good that can come from combatting the trend toward plutocracy and oligarchy that proceeds unabated across the globe: By passing a capital gain tax aimed at the rich, Washington State has raised nearly 850 million dollars. All of it will go toward child care, early learning programs, and school construction, and, as Reich says, “The rich are still doing fine.”

The New Demagogue on the Street

Vivek Ramaswamy, a rising star in the Republican presidential race. He seemed to have come out of nowhere. He is smarter and much younger than Trump and willing to say anything that will appeal to the Trump cult. He is no less demagogic than Trump. He styles himself as Trump’s heir apparent. His arrogance and contempt for truth and for democracy are manifest. He’s a highly transmissible variant of the Trump virus, which, like the Covid virus, keeps spawning iterations of itself, and we don’t know if we’ll ever be rid of it.

Day after Labor Day Impressions

Headlines: The Bad News about U.S. schools just keeps coming. The Federal Government’s deficit this year is much higher than expected. All over the world, invasive species are threatening society. A new era of climate-linked pathogens threatens humanity. Putin and Kim Jong Un plan to meet in Russia (We crazed nuclear-armed brutal dictators have to stick together in these troubling times). Summer is over. It’s important to maintain a healthy, optimistic, realistic, magnanimous attitude.

Surreal Land, continued

Headline that appeared when I turned on the TV this evening: “Trump vows to jail political opponents, if elected.” That is to say, “I’m running on a platform of intent to overthrow the government of the United States and be a ruthless dictator in the style of Putin.” This isn’t like an elephant in the room. It’s like a whale in the bathtub.

Surreal Land, continued

Headline that appeared when I turned on the TV this morning: “Wall Street Journal Poll says Trump and Biden tied.” Something is terribly wrong either with this poll or with this country, or both.

Surreal Land

Trump, with ninety-one felony counts against him in four separate criminal proceedings is the leading presidential candidate of the Republican Party. This is surreal, and it’s surreal that the media has treated this cornucopia of felony counts against Trump as being among factors that may help or may harm him. Trump is obviously unfit for office, and so is any Republican candidate who pledges to support him if he is the nominee. This is among the truths that would be self-evident to nearly every sane person of good will everywhere but in surreal land.

The Future: A.I. / Incomes / Work / Equableness

Experts say it could happen: In thirty years or so, A.I. will be able to perform most of the work now done by humans, including that done by highly skilled humans employing the most advanced technology.

This may happen: A.I. will do most work more efficiently and at much less cost. The increase in productivity (the ratio of output to human labor) will be exponential. Most jobs will be eliminated. A.I machines get nearly all the work done at trivial cost. They could be like an enormous army of slaves that do all the work, but there’s nothing immoral about it because they are not sentient beings. They are still machines. Will this result in a utopian society, or one controlled by handfuls of super-oligarchs accompanied by rampant poverty, or some mess in between? Let’s hope that concern for equableness and the common good win out

Ukraine

I still feel that the only route to peace in Ukraine is to concede enough to Putin so that he won’t be so humiliated that he develops a desperate escalate-even-if-it-means-suicide state of mind. Any such peace agreement must provide that any renewed aggression on the part of Russia will be met with the full force of NATO regardless of whether Ukraine is a member of NATO or not. NATO nations must put teeth in any such agreement by preparing for conflict to a degree that would leave no doubt in Putin’s mind as to NATO’s military superiority and its resolve to carry through on its commitment.

The Coming Water Crises

“America is using up water like there’s no tomorrow.” This is the headline of a comprehensive article in yesterday’s online New York Times. Imagine someone who spends a lot more than he makes each year, but makes up the shortfall by withdrawing a big chunk of money from his bank account. That’s what America has been doing with water, the bank account being natural underground reservoirs (aquifers) that accumulated water over thousands of years.

This is a bigger problem than the nation’s thirty-one trillion dollar national debt. The government can borrow or print money, but it can’t borrow or print water. Major water crises lie ahead. “In some places, the aquifer has fallen to less than 10 percent of capacity, the Arkansas Department of State warned this year. Arkansas produces roughly half the nation’s rice, a water-intensive crop.”

Humans are smarter than other animals, but not smart enough to plan far ahead.

Helping Ukraine

In a Washington Post column yesterday, military and foreign policy expert Max Boot argues that Biden has been overly cautious about providing Ukraine with advanced weapons and assistance. What’s been holding Biden back is fear that if the U.S. inserts itself too forcefully in the war, Putin, out of desperation, will escalate it by using tactical nuclear weapons: the risk of direct confrontation and dangerous further escalation is too great to take. U.S. policy is to turn the heat up on Putin, but not so fast that, like the proverbial frog, he jumps out of the pot (resorts to Nukes.) It’s presumptuous for armchair strategists without access to all available intelligence to judge to what degree, if any, Boot is right.

A related problem is that Putin might like nothing better than for the West to carry out significant military operations on Russian soil. That would play into his propaganda theme that Russia is fighting for survival against the imperial West. I think that there should be no holding back in supporting Ukraine in defense of its own territory, but attacks inside Russia should be undertaken with the utmost caution. This is not a highly efficient way to conduct warfare, but it’s keyed to realities.

News Articles

I read several articles a day. Many of them are interesting and enlightening. A lot of them have intriguing titles but turn out to be what I think are called “nothing burgers.” An article I skimmed through today left me thinking, “Huh?” It was by a psychoanalyst and was titled “The Case Against Being a Good Person.” A lot of her patients feel shame, apparently because they’ve been inundated with admonitions and instructions that got them mired down fearing that they aren’t a good person. Stop obsessing about such things and do what you want to is the message I took away from this professional counselor. In my view, she should tell her patients that if they fear that they aren’t a good person, they should try being one. The Dalai Lama knows: Being a good person promotes your happiness as well as that of others. Another article I read today was ironically uplifting. It was by a woman who has terminal cancer. She is destined to die in what should be mid-life, but she appears to have had more than a full life’s worth of living, and she appreciates living a lot more than she fears dying. Bravo!, I thought. I look forward to each day’s new articles and wish I had time to read more.

“War and Peace” Book Note (concluded)

Tolstoy understood Napoleon better than most of the characters he created in War and Peace: “{Napoleon} could not disavow his own acts, which were lauded by half the world, and so he was forced to disavow truth and goodness and everything human.” Reproduced in the book is a letter Napoleon sent from St. Helena —a fine example of self-justification and lamentation as to what Europe had lost by failing to elevate him to universally appreciated supremacy.

Some of what Tolstoy said about Napoleon would be an apt characterization of Donald Trump: “To his mind, all he did was good, not because it was in harmony with any preconceived notion of good or bad, but simply because it was he that did it.”

And some of Vladimir Putin: “The idea of glory and greatness, consisting in esteeming nothing one does wrong, consisting in glorying in every crime, and ascribing to it an incomprehensible, supernatural value.”

Prince Andrei’s epiphany may evoke Tolstoy’s principal preoccupation as well as anything:”There is nothing certain but the nothingness of all that is comprehensible and the grandeur of something incomprehensible, but more important.”

Nothing that Tolstoy expressed in War and Peace satisfied him in his later life. Ever restless, he propelled his vision of universal Christian love into the realm of nihilism.

“War and Peace” Book Note, (continued)

The linchpins of this sprawling book are Pierre, who stands out as a solitary figure, and members of two noble families, the Bolkonskys, who are very rich, and the Rostovs, who are hard-pressed for funds. Readers witness intriguing romantic maneuvering and agonizing, and important couplings that are abruptly ended by death, but the prospectively enduring pairings set in place near the end of the book — Pierre with Natasha Rostov and Nikolay Rostov with Marya Bolkonsky — are recorded with as little grace and sensitivity as if they were figurines being positioned in a doll’s house.

Nicolay had pledged his love to Sonya, his impecunious cousin, who is the most pure and lovely person in the entire novel, but Tolstoy doesn’t comment on, much less describe, how Nicolay leaves her bereft and marries the heiress Marya except to record someone’s appellation of Sonya as a “barren flower,” not a gallant way to treat such a gallant character, Chekhov did much better with his
near perfect Sonya in his play Uncle Vanya.

Tolstoy is eloquent in how great events in history happen: “Nothing was exclusively the cause of the war and the war was bound to happen simply because it was bound to happen. Millions of men, repudiating their common sense and their human feelings, were bound to move from west to east, and slaughter their fellows, just as centuries before millions of men had moved from east to west to slaughter their fellows.” Tolstoy wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that a little over a quarter century after his death, in the time of the Third Reich, it was west to east again, nor that eighty years afterwards, with Russia’s war on Ukraine, it was again east to west.

“War and Peace” Book Note (continued)

Tolstoy agonized about the human condition and the universal prospect of mortality as obsessively as anyone. Pierre Bezuhov, a principal character in War and Peace, may be the author’s avatar in that respect. A physically massive, naive, impulsive, good-hearted,, unpretentious young fellow who inherited a great deal of money, Pierre goes through stages of trying to figure out how to deal with life: seeking release from anxiety in “philanthropy, dissipation, freemasonry, heroic feats of self-sacrifice, romantic love, and the ‘path of thought.’” It takes being captured by the French, incarcerated in miserable circumstances, witnessing an execution and almost being executed himself for Pierre to appreciate the empowering benefit of simple goodness, though that alone doesn’t quite do it. In his last appearance in the book, he is trying to organize societies or movements that seem to be more than anything else a continuing quest for psychic self-satisfaction.

Tolstoy’s search for a way of dealing with the human condition is also instantiated in the life and death of another major character, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who cares little about personal or societal benefits and tends toward cynicism, only breaking out of this shell when he is dying, whereupon he transcends his egoism by embracing a doctrine of universal love.

to be continued toomorrow

“War and Peace” Book Note

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy; translated by Constance Garnett

This venerable translation is evidently in the public domain. The Milestone Editions hardcover version I read this summer has no copyright page and consists solely of 1,116 pages of the novel’s text, still enough so that reading it builds hands and fingers strength.

Tolstoy’s writing style is serviceable. I’d be surprised if experts view it as first-rate. His characters blush and their faces redden and turn crimson too often. His principal characters encounter each other by coincidence too often. He has trouble placing the moon in a possible position in the sky. On the other hand, he’s outstanding in explaining how historical events happen: mostly through concatenations of chance events.

Tolstoy’s takedowns of Napoleon are exemplary, as is his contempt for the hordes, including heads of state, who fawned over him. Tolstoy gets a lot else right as well. He faithfully records how boring parties frequented by the aristocracy can be, and no less so conversations among soldiers in their encampments. He captures the essence of sociopathy: “Anatole was well satisfied with his position, with himself, and with other people. He was instinctively and thoroughly convinced that he could not possibly live except just in the way he did live, and that he had never in his life done anything base. He was incapable of considering how his action might be judged by others, or what might be the result of this or that action on his part.”

to be continued tomorrow

Book Note

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy; translated by Constance Garnett

Unfortunately, I can’t preserve the format of my pdf copy of this when trying to post it on this Word Press program. I’ll figure out how best to post it by tomorrow.

My Summer Reading Project

I spent a lot of time this summer reading Tolstoy’s extraordinary novel, War and Peace. I’ve been writing a book note about it, which I plan to post here tomorrow.

Reading Projects

Some years ago. I decided to alternate between reading classic and contemporary books. I never followed through on that plan, but this summer I made up for this lapse to a degree by reading War and Peace. It took me about eleven weeks. I plan to write a book note on this extraordinary work. If I follow through on that project, I’ll post it here.

Keys to Healthy Longer Living

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast interview with Dr. Peter Attia on his book Outlive: the science and art of longevity. Highlighted was the usual stuff — right diet and right exercise, but with great precision and specificity. This morning, I read an article about the second oldest person in the U.S. an alert black lady in Houston who just had her 114th birthday. As usual, opinions were floated as to what was the key to her longevity. Some expert said that what such people have in common is “a healthy relationship with stress.” I don’t know whether Dr. Attia discussed that in his book, but I suspect it’s a necessary factor.

The State of the Republican Party

To participate in televised debate for the Republican nomination aspiring candidates will be required to pledge to support the Party’s nominee. Since Trump is the most likely nominee, this means that the Republican Party has resolved to exclude any candidate who isn’t willing to support a candidate who has been indicted in four federal and state proceedings and charged with a ninety-one serious crimes. This what is called a race to the bottom.

Putin’s Plan

Headline: “Leaked files detail Russia’s secretive effort to build attack drones.” Putin’s hold on power could become much more tenuous in the wake of continuing heavy Russian casualties. To avoid that eventuality, Putin’s strategy may be to mass produce attack drones to the degree that he can pummel Ukraine with drone attacks at a pace and for a duration of time such that the pain, with no prospect of relief, will become too much for Ukrainians to bear. Such a policy might soon look as if it would be successful, in which case the West will have to consider whether it would attempt to destroy drone factories deep inside Russia, risking the most dangerous escalation of the war to date.

Post Ukraine War Policy

Headline: “Europe has vowed to make Russia pay for the war. Doing so could breach international law, experts said.” Will leaders never learn from history? “In victory, magnanimity.” Churchill.

Is Trump Toast?

With this devastating Georgia indictment, it’s tempting to think that Trump is toast. In my view, he isn’t toast, but he’s in a slot in a top-of-the-line new toaster, the power is on, the kitchen is controlled by good people, and there’s every reason to believe that, after enduring a series of distractions, one of them will pull the lever down and toasting will occur.

Seeking a Clean and Healthy Environment.

Yesterday, a judge ruled that Montana’s Constitution’s guarantee of the right to a “clean and healthful environment” was violated by a state law encouraging fossil fuel production. Montana has large coal reserves. Even if they could be kept in the ground, it wouldn’t guarantee a clean and healthful environment, but promoting fossil fuels violates the spirit of this admirable provision. I hope the judge’s ruling will be upheld on appeal.

The Next Indictment

It appears that Trump will be indicted in Georgia within the next week or two for violating that state’s criminal code by committing voter fraud, conspiring to install fake electors, and committing other offenses in furtherance of his efforts to remain in office despite having been voted out of it. It’s surreal that this event is not expected to harm Trump’s chances of becoming the Republican Party’s Presidential nominee. Trump would have have been escorted off the public stage years ago, had not the minds of tens of millions of Americans been poisoned by the forces of greed, cynicism, and resentment, amplified by extravagant injections of money from superrich malefactors.

True Believers

Watching the Chris Hayes news show the other night I saw a clip of some Iowa Republicans excoriating Mike Pence for not supporting Trump’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021. They were true believers, full of righteous indignation: Pence’s failure to support Trump was “treason,” one shouted. Chris Hayes is a serious fellow. He also has a sense of humor. After presenting clips of Iowans verbally thrashing Pence, he noted that Pence had at least one supporter, and then showed a clip of a man saying, “i’m glad they didn’t hang him.” I hope this guy wasn’t attacked by the others for making such a weak and cowardly remark.

There’s No Location B

Advocates of a more robust effort to slow climate change have warned that “There’s no planet B.” I never entertained the fantasy of a planet B, but I did imagine that there might be a location B — a place that would be spared the afflictions of climate change for many decades ahead. Much of Canada was on my list of candidates. When that idea was eclipsed by smoke this past June, I thought, well, there’s Hawaii. I’ve spent some time on Kauai, Maui, and the big island of Hawaii and regard them among the most favored pieces of geography in the world. The fires, particularly on Maui, this week have been horrific and unsettling. I’ve given up thinking about location B.

How Should the Fruits of Advanced A.I. Be Distributed?

I’ve read that advanced A.I. could increase productivity enormously. This could translate into hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars per year. This should not mostly go to make billionaires richer. A good alternative would be to make sure that everyone has a sufficient income to afford adequate food, water, shelter, and health care. That’s what would happen in an enlightened society, and ours should become one.

Right-Wing Extremists

Level-headed people of good will have a hard time understanding why Trump supporters and Putin sympathizers think and act they way they do. Their brains seem to work differently than those of decent sensible people. The beginning of an explanation lies in the fact that right-wing extremists share a common strain of psychopathology, some markers of which are recogniazable in a remark by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin in her weekly chat yesterday: “The Republican base is a community that bonds over mistrust, paranoia, angst, resentment and anger.” 

The Political Future of the United States

The electorate and the two major political parties seem to be irreconcilably divided, with each party seeking long-term one-party control of our federal government. One or the other party might well be successful in that respect. The preferred alternative — bi-partisan reconciliation of rational opposing views and passage of bi-partisan legislation — seems least likely. A fourth possibility — longterm gridlock — may be most likely of all.

Driving from New York to Colorado

Driving most of the way across the country is a special kind of experience. The scenery is mostly the backs of big trucks ahead of you, and the sides of big trucks you are passing or are passing you and the sometimes miles-long orange pylons and other markers of construction zones, in about 90% of which no construction is taking place. The air feels, looks, and smells in the yellow range on the AirNow.gov meter, sometimes transitioning into orange or green. The big chain motels are variations on an uninspiring theme, but functional. The “fitness centers” are an essential innovation, as is a mini fridge in every room. Bringing your food in a big cooler is key to maintaining a survivable diet. Rewarding views are scarce but some of them leave satisfying imprints in memory. The windmills stand like giant sentinels, swinging their great arms in the wind.

Trump’s Big Lead — Blog Suspension

“Trump crushing DeSantis and Rivals, Times-Sienna Poll Finds” says a New York Times headline this morning. Trump’s rivals are a sorry lot, but evidently not as sorry as the majority of Republican voters. Our summer rental on Long Island ends today, and we’ll be driving west for the next week, visiting kids and grandkids along the way. This blog will be in suspension until August 8th.

War and Peace; The Sociopathic Personality

As might be expected, this immensely long novel has a diverse cast of characters. Speaking of one of the bad guys, Anatole Kuragin, Tolstoy provides us with an excellent description of a sociopathic personality.

“Anatole was . . . instinctively and thoroughly convinced that he could not live except just in the way he did live, and that he had never in his life done anything base. He was incapable of considering either how his actions might be judged by others, or what might be the result of this or that action on his part. . . he was incapable of considering the effect upon others of the gratification of his tastes, he believed himself in his heart to be an irreproachable man. . .”
______________________
* Constance Garnett translation

War and Peace

I’m reading Tolstoy’s celebrated novel War and Peace. Much of it that relates to war is historical. Midpoint in the narrative Tolstoy describes Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and states: “On the 12th of June the forces of Western Europe crossed the frontier, and the war began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and all human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another so great a mass of crime — fraud, swindling, robbery, forgery, issue of counterfeit money, plunder, incendiarism, and murder — that the annals of all the criminal courts of the world could not muster such a sum of wickedness in whole centuries, though the men who committed those deeds did not at that time look bon them as crimes.*

Napoleon was an archetypal example of sociopathy and narcissism. His rise and fall supplies one of the great lessons of history, one from which others with these characteristics are incapable of learning.
_______________________
* Constance Garnett translation

The Environment: East End Of Long Island Division

The term of our house rental on the east end of Long Island is about to end. It feels like the end of summer even though it’s the middle of summer, especially after reading this morning that the water quality in this area is the worst ever. I didn’t need to read the news to know that the air quality is the worst ever. I don’t know how much of that is “basic” air pollution and how much is from Canadian wildfires, but even though there was a brisk southwest breeze blowing off the ocean yesterday, you only needed to step outside and take a breath to know that you’re not breathing “fresh air.” A friend who is an expert on building, tearing down, renovating, maintenance, and relentless upscaling in this area told me that the east end of Long Island is “an ecological black hole.”

Keeping in Touch With Nature from a Rental House on Long Island

First thing in the morning, I keep in touch with nature on my
laptop computer: Weather: murky skies; thunderstorms late in the day. Tides: not high till late in the day. Air quality: not bad, but will be worse late in the day; Hurricanes: a disturbance in the Atlantic not presently a threat. Heat Map warning: orange-red: high of 90 tomorrow (about as unusually hot as 115 in Phoenix). Time to put on my hearing aids and hear birds chirping cheerily away.

Treatment of Animals

I think we have a strong ethical obligation toward our fellow creatures to not make their lives more painful and unpleasant than they are or would be in a state of nature. Therefore, I would ban practices such as confining animals to cages so small they can’t even turn around, force feeding them, or breeding them to a degree that their legs can barely withstand their weight. I think that humans have as much right to kill chickens for food as foxes, but foxes don’t cause chickens to suffer for most of their lives before they die, and humans shouldn’t either.

Israel’s Big Problem and the World’s

The power the U.S. Congress has to pass legislation affecting the Supreme Court is fairly clear under the. Constitution. That’s not the case in Israel, which has no written Constitution. The extreme, right-wing, ultra-religious and ultranationalist parties that control Israel’s parliament claim that they can prune Israel’s Supreme Court’s power so that legislation they pass will no longer be subject to judicial review. What if the Court rules that the parliament lacks such authority? A crisis is shaping up of unprecedented proportions. Authoritarianism was thoroughly discredited in the 20th century, but that doesn’t keep it from roaring back.

Israel: The Looming Tragedy

Against overwhelming public opposition, the extreme right-wing officials who control Israeli policy are poised to strip the judiciary of its authority, thereby fixing in place long-term one-party rule. In a letter to President Biden, reproduced in yesterday’s New York Times, Tom Friedman, who knows as much about the situation as anyone, pleaded to Biden to bring the full persuasive power of the U.S. Government to bear on prime minister Netanyahu and his political allies to desist in converting Israel into an authoritarian state.

For decades, I’ve heard that generous support of Israel by the U.S. was important, among other reasons, because “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” It will be a great tragedy, if commentators are soon saying, “Now there are none.”

Never Despair

A good defense of this exhortation is to be found in the before and after pictures of some California lakes and reservoirs. Still etched in my brain is an aerial shot taken last year of a once big lake in California that had been reduced to a puddle crowded with houseboats that had clustered in the only patch of water where they wouldn’t be sitting on dry ground. This morning in the online Washington Post is a picture taken last year of what would look like a valley on Mars if there weren’t a bridge spanning it. The same shot this year shows a sparkling clear lake. As the headline proclaims, it’s a miracle. Too bad California needs one every year.

The War in Ukraine Won’t Be Over When It’s Over

A Washington Post article this morning details how an area of Ukraine larger than the state of Florida is contaminated with mines and other unexploded ordnance that will cause death and injuries for decades to come. Putin’s war against Ukraine is a war against all humanity. The West must strengthen its unity and resolve.

Why Write a Blog?

Why try to write a blog every day? The answer is the same as to “Why keep a diary or a journal?” It’s not to try to persuade people to see things from my point of view, though I have some hope that to some degree that will happen. It’s mainly an effort to think more deeply about what’s going on the world and organize my thoughts as they relate to a particular subject. As the playwright Ionesco said, “I write to find out what I think.”

Lament of the Hour, concluded

The 3.5 million residents of metropolitan Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, have foul and unhealthy drinking water. People with enough money use bottled water. Most people have to live with city water. A Uruguayan journalist reports that this condition is the result of the worst drought in 44 years plus gross mismanagement. This is the situation in a country in a temperate or subtropical climate, beautiful rivers, and an absence of military threats. Will your city be next? the journalist asks/

Lament of the Hour, continued

Headline: “Around fifty Ukrainian Fathers Are Killed Every Day.” This was shown online with a succession of pictures — one child at a time — of their children. It was an effective piece of journalism — conveying, to a degree, the heart-wrenching price of war in a way that bare statistics can’t. Putin must not be allowed to win (whatever that means), but the West must seek a way to peace every day.

Lament of the Hour (2)

Headline: “We’re already paying for universal health care. Why Don’t We Have It?” The point is that the U.S. spends more on health care but gets less health care than many other countries, a condition resulting from deficiencies in our political system and our form of capitalism and from the pervasive mix of greed and ignorance that is a feature of our society.

Lament of the Hour

Headline: “How a Saudi firm tapped a gusher of water in drought-stricken Arizona.” This has and continues to happen legally under a long-term lease from the state. The Saudi firm needs the water to grow alfalfa, which is needed to feed Saudi cattle. What a debacle. Yet some are pushing to have it renewed. So much going on that makes one think, Oh, dear.

Dog Days Respite

I have a friend who finds something awesome every day. Oh, really, I thought when I first heard this. I learned he wasn’t kidding, or living in unreality land. He was noticing what happens in front of us all the time. I’m on the alert for awesome phenomena, now. We’ve been living through the dog days lately, but I was awakened at 4 A..M. last night by rain beating on the roof and a cool, damp, earthy-smelling breeze blowing through the room that reminded me of the wet wind coming through an open tent flap when I was camping on the Appalachian Trail about fifty years ago.

The Dog Days

They say that if things go badly, you feel less happy for a while, but gradually you get used to it and you feel pretty close to the same amount of happiness that you felt when things were going well. The same thing happens in reverse if something wonderful happens. Happiness tends to revert to the mean. The air quality improved to “good” today on the east end of Long Island, a cause for happiness, which it wouldn’t have been if it had been “good” all along. Such kinds of thoughts are common as the dog days, move along.

Ukraine and NATO.

Headline: “Biden and Zelensky say Ukraine will join NATO only after war ends.” Zelensky complained publicly about Ukraine not being admitted to NATO by a specified date, but I suspect that’s for “optics.” Once Ukraine is a member of NATO, other members would be obliged to send military units to Ukraine to help fight the Russian invaders. NATO troops would become engaged in combat with Russian troops. I don’t think Putin would dare use nuclear weapons without support of the Russian people. If we are careful, he won’t be able to get such support. Bringing NATO forces into Ukraine before the war ends would run too high a risk of crossing that line. Any peace agreement must be unequivocal that NATO will protect Ukraine in the future as fully as if Ukraine were a member of NATO.

Can Trump Be Brought to Justice?

I think so, but it seems unlikely this can happen before the Presidential election, even in the slam-dunk-for-the-prosection classified documents case against Trump in Florida. That’s because the notoriously pro-Trump judge overseeing the case may contrive to delay his trial until after the election, and even if she doesn’t, the jury to be impaneled will be drawn from strongly pro-Trump counties, and no matter how rigorous the jury selection process is, at least one juror is likely to be a MAGA true believer who will refuse to vote to convict Trump no matter how overwhelming the evidence is against him. It would take only one such juror to precipitate a mistrial. The case could still be retried, but time for a trial before the election will have run out.

Cluster Bomb Math

In his Washington Post column yesterday, Max Boot made a persuasive argument supporting President Biden’s decision to supply cluster bombs to Ukraine. Many progressives have criticized Biden for ceding the moral high ground with this decision. Cluster bombs are very effective in the kind of military engagements taking place between Ukrainians and Russians, but a significant percentage of them don’t go off, and these can pose a lethal hazard.They become like land mines. They can kill farmers ploughing fields and children playing long after the war is over. That’s true, but that’s a risk Ukrainians are willing to take, and use of this horrible weapon will be restricted to Ukrainian territory. Mr. Boot points out that the war will drag on longer, and more people will be killed in the process, if cluster bombs are withheld from the Ukrainian military forces. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but my guess is that Mr. Boot has the math right.

A Bit of Good News

The stronger and more unified NATO is, the better the prospects are for future peace, stability and a favorable end to Russia’s war on Ukraine. It’s a bit of good news that Erdogan, the autocrat running Turkey, has decided to stop blocking Sweden from becoming a member of NATO. NATO will be strengthened by Sweden’s membership and, it would seem, by Erdogan’s conclusion that it’s in his self-interest to become a more responsible participant in the NATO alliance.

Little Shockers

Lately, whenever I think I have a pretty good understanding of the hazards facing humanity, I get a little shocker — a revelation of some problem or threat I hadn’t been aware of. This morning, it was a news story about how tiny particles from tires and brakes were causing more pollution than vehicles’ engine exhausts. I knew that tires wore down. I was reminded of that when a couple of months ago I bought new tires for our six-year-old car. This morning was the first time I considered what happens to the part of a tire that wears down. It devolves into innumerable numbers of microscopic-sized particles, which mingle with innumerable numbers of similar particles, many of which find their way into our lungs.

The Supreme Court and Affirmative Action

There’s been quite a lot of commentary on the Supreme Court’s banning affirmative action based on race in college admissions. The extreme right-wing controlling majority rejects the notion that unequal treatment is warranted to overcome the enduring legacy of unequal treatment. The ruling appears to be particularly egregious given that affirmative action for offspring of alumni, big donors, and other favored groups — what has been rightly called “affirmative action for the lucky”— remains an almost universal feature of our higher education system.

Biden and the Word “Disastrous.”

I saw a widely distributed campaign ad designed to convince voters that DeSantis is the Republican most likely to beat Biden in next year’s presidential election. The tenor of it was that there are extremely high stakes in this election, so it’s of utmost importance to nominate the candidate who can beat Biden and reverse his “disastrous” policies. I’ve seen that word, “disastrous,” coupled with Biden’s name before, never accompanied by analysis or documentation. There’s no need for such trappings. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Biden has been a disastrous president. People must get that firmly fixed in their minds and not overthink it by considering facts and data. Voters: Just remember this simple equation: Biden = Disastrous.

Trump and Republican Politicians

Headline: “Prosecutors in Trump classified documents case are facing threats.” Couple this with a contemporaneous article on the rhetoric Trump is posting on his personal social media platform, “Truth Social,” and you don’t need to know anything else about Trump to be aware of the moral deficiency of Republican politicians who fail to state clearly that Trump is unfit to hold public office and that they will not support or vote for him under any circumstances.

The National Debt: The Reckoning To Come

A Washington Post editorial yesterday laid out the figures, demonstrating that the National Debt is increasing at the rate of two trillion dollars per year. The burden of interest rates on government debt has risen precipitously, tracking the increasing amount of debt to service and the extraordinarily large rise in interest rates over the past year. The U.S. Government has to pay a much higher interest rate on new borrowings than it did a year ago.

Republicans and Democrats must agree on imposing significantly higher taxes on the rich, the superrich, and corporations and even on paring social programs including Social Security and Medicare. The U.S. doesn’t have to balance the budget each year, but it must significantly reduce the annual deficit to forestall a reckoning the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Do Debates and Interviews with Contrarian Theory Spreaders Serve the Public Interest?

There are opposing views:

Yes: Contrarian theory spreaders (voices raised in opposition to established policies and common factual understandings) are false theory spreaders in the eyes of some people and honorable whistle blowers in the eyes of others. Let the sunshine in. The truth will emerge in the clash of conflicting views. To refuse to debate such people or shy away from interviewing them is to implicitly concede that their claims are true.

No: If contrarian theory spreaders— the anti-vaccination provocateur and Presidential candidate, Robert Kennedy, Jr., has been cited as a prime example — have demonstrated a consistent pattern of lies, misrepresentations, distortions, and fabrications, debates and interviews with them usually serve to increase their reach and amplify their false claims. Claims such people make in debates and interviews often can’t be fact-checked in real time, and are brushed off with more of the same when they are. Such occasions segue into rhetorical contests rather than honest weighings of the facts. “The worst are full of passionate intensity,” which is why, regardless of how baseless their claims may be, their message gets through. That free speech is a sacred right is not a warrant to hand microphones to people who traffic in lies.

In my view, Jennifer Rubin is the most astute opinion writer among many excellent ones whose columns appear in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Yesterday, the Post published one of Rubin’s finest and most important essays relating to the state of the nation. It was headed “Self-government is worth defending.” What needs defending to preserve our country’s self-government is a sad one to think about on Independence Day: the Supreme Court’s “disintegration as a legislative body” and “its emergence as a supreme right-wing policy maker.” Rubin backs up her assertion with incontrovertible examples of rulings, statements, and conduct on the part of the right-wing justices who control the Court.

A court controlled by justices who have shown contempt for the law and standards of ethical conduct in the face of their duty to uphold the law and to conduct themselves ethically is not going to reform itself. That task must be undertaken by the voters, Congress, and the President. The instruments of reform available to them under the Constitution are imposition of term limits, altering the scope of the court’s jurisdiction, increasing the number of justices, and ethics reform. Progress in this respect is unlikely unless the Democrats achieve sweeping victories in next year’s elections.

Needed: A Right-Wing Third Party Candidate

There are at least three right-wing-supported candidates running for President, none of whom have any chance of being elected, but in each case would drain far more votes from Biden than from Trump: Robert Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaccination and conspiracy theorist nut with a lustrous name and heavy financial backing; Cornel West, a rhetorically gifted black intellectual narcissist, and whoever is nominated by the recently formed, right-wing-financed, No Labels Party.

Much needed is a strong, adequately financed Republican to run on a third party ticket — someone who will drain far more votes from Trump than from Biden. Otherwise, a slight, but far too great risk will remain that Trump could once again become President, in which case, as has been said, understatedly, “This time there will be no adults in the room.”

Freedom and Murder

One might think that almost everyone in our country would be for freedom and no one would be for murder, and that’s the case, but as the historian Jill Lapore points out, we have a problem with definitions: A huge segment of the population defines abortion as murder and guns as freedom, and an even larger segment of the population defines guns as murder and abortion as freedom.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. and the Conspiracy Theory Embracers.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s father might have become president if he hadn’t been assassinated. The younger Kennedy has a respectable track record as an environmental lawyer. For years, I had assumed that he was a progressive, as is traditional in the Kennedy family, and maybe he is, except that something in his psyche caused him to latch on to baseless conspiracy theories that typically attract members of the Trump cult.

Kennedy is challenging Biden, running on an anti-vaccination platform for the Democratic Presidential nomination. He has a sizable following and some very rich and influential backers. The New York Times opinion writer Michelle Goldberg had a terrific article about these people yesterday. They are serious, and many of them are sincere. Conspiracy theories — especially ones relating to vaccinations — are like effects of a virulent pathogen that infects human brains. A sizable percentage of the U.S. population is vulnerable to it for reasons I don’t understand.

What New Normals Lie Ahead?

The latest smoke map I’ve seen reveals that air quality is bad all the way from New England to Minnesota and, except for Virginia, which somehow escaped, as far south as Georgia. Is this the new normal — the way summers will be from now on? Will people increasingly utter that unpleasant phrase, “Get used to it.” I recently ran across an article that referred to the “shifting baseline syndrome,” which is the principle that each generation takes as normal what it regularly experiences, though members of previous generations rarely or never experienced such events. when they were young. Having reached the nonagenarian stage, I’ve seen more than a few baseline shifts. Once there were a lot of hemlock trees on Long Island. I haven’t seen any in years, but that’s normal.

Income and Wealth Inequality

News Item “728 billionaires already own 50 percent of the country’s wealth, and they want more.” 

Money generates power, which generates more money, which generates . . . The disparity between great wealth and barely scraping along is growing. Our country is weaker for it. We need a much more progressive tax structure, and there’s no sign we’re going to get it. Why? Because money generates . . .

Trump’s Rivals

I saw a list of 23 people running for the 2024 Republican Presidential Nomination. Trump is leading the pack by a wide margin. By the time he’s through getting indicted, he may have the nomination locked up.

Trump’s 22 rivals want him to lose. The more glaringly Trump’s faults are exposed to public view, the more likely he is to lose. Under ordinary circumstances, opponents would want to criticize the front-runner and point out his faults. And Trump does have faults. In fact, he is entirely constituted of faults. Nevertheless, all but a handful of his rivals have attacked him. That’s a dereliction of any minimal standard of conduct. They don’t need rattle off an indictment-length account of his transgressions, but they could at least mention that he’s a dangerous sociopath. What a sorry bunch.

Time for a Diplomatic Surge on Ukraine / Russia

The course of events in Russia during the past week has been both heartening (Putin shaken) and disturbing (Men even more deranged than Putin may gain control.) A few days before the Wagner Group rebellion, former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul urged the U.S. to “launch a diplomatic surge on Ukraine.” A peace settlement with favorable terms from the standpoint of Ukraine and the West might be more possible now than it has been or will be in the future. Concessions with little or no substantive value could be made to Putin that would enable him to save face. The tenor of the settlement would be that Putin fought the war to gain the peace. NATO would formally guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and, not that they ever needed it, Russia’s too. The continual killing and maiming of great numbers of Ukrainians and Russians would stop.

Inflation

Inflation at the rate we’ve seen in the past year is unsettling. Its effect is corrosive. I’ve gotten a sense of what it’s like when inflation gets out of control from a friend in Argentina. He wrote recently, “Living with an inflation rate of over 100% is like living in a circus 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. . . It becomes terrifying. It’s sleeping in anguish and living in anguish.” Argentina is far away from the U.S. Since it doesn’t lie in the direction of either China or Russia, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Am Indicator of Ethical Collapse

After the MAGA-subservient majority of the House of Representatives censured Congressman Adam Schiff for his outstanding work in exposing the causes and unfolding of the January 6, 2021 insurrection, Schiff’s colleague Jamie Raskin observed:. “We are seeing the complete ethical collapse of a once-great political party . . . into an authoritarian cult of personality taking orders from an inciter of insurrection.” Well said, Mr. Raskin. It’s a sad sight.

A Presidential Election Anomaly

Even though Trump would be the easiest Republican nominee to defeat in next year’s presidential election, Democrats should not hope that he will be the nominee, muuch less work to achieve that end. As Jennifer Rubin writes, even a 1% chance that he would be elected would be too great a risk to take.

Justices Thomas and Alito: A Study of Contrasting Styles of Advocacy

When Justice Clarence Thomas was confronted with failing to report a luxury vacation funded by a billionaire, including travel on a private jet, he argued that he and the billionaire were longtime close friends. His point seems to have been that if the billionaire had only been a casual acquaintance, one might wonder why he had been so generous, but close friends are often generous in entertaining each other, so it was all right.

When Justice Samuel Alito was confronted with failing to report a luxury vacation funded by a billionaire, including travel on a private jet, he argued that the billionaire was only a casual acquaintance. His point seems to have been that if he and the billionaire had close connections, one might wonder why the billionaire had been so lavish. But the billionaire and Alito only talked “fleetingly,” so it was all right. Lest that argument fail to erase any doubt as to the propriety of Alito’s accepting the billionaire’s hospitality, Alito pointed out that the lodge where he stayed was “rustic,” that the unit where he occupied was “modest,” that the meals he ate were “home-style,” and that if wine was served (and he wasn’t saying that it was!), a bottle of it would have cost less than $1,000.

Trump’s State of Mind

I read that the Fox News journalist who interviewed Trump a couple of days ago asked tough questions. He must have been expecting more friendly treatment. He reportedly lied and incriminated himself sufficiently to generate further evidence against him. His narcissism is so extreme that it overcomes his self-preservation instincts. This latest episode is a further indication that, besides being a dangerous sociopath, he’s deranged.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — Victim and Perpetrator

Robert F Kennedy, Jr., a a 69-year-old lawyer and member of a famous family and who bears the name of his famous father, is running for president on an independent ticket. His agenda appears to be to promote various destructive and baseless conspiracy theories, particularly the claim in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that the Covid-19 vaccine is dangerous. Kennedy has been aptly called a “nut-job,” yet he is likely to drain a significant number of votes from Biden in the 2024 election.

Influential people who promote baseless conspiracy theories weaken our country. They cause misery and deaths. What causes them to form such irrational and destructive convictions? I’d like to know.

Let People Watch Trump’s Trials

“Cameras in Trump case courtrooms are essential.” This was the headline of Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post column yesterday. The point is that with all the lies, misinformation, innuendos, propaganda — whatever you want to call it — much of the public is misinformed or deluded about the nature of Trump’s behavior and the processes involved in investigating and prosecuting him. Trump’s trials will be revelatory. Testimony is limited to what is relevant and material. Lying under oath is a criminal offense. In all likelihood, evidence presented will be sufficient to establish Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on numerpis counts. His trials will be enlightening experience for everyone who watches them. The more people who can watch them, the more it will clear the air.

Senate Republicans

Senate Republicans reached a fork in the road when Trump was impeached. One path led to removing him from office and barring him from holding any public office again. That was the honorable course of action, but it had a downside for them. It would so offend members of Trump’s rabid, insurrectionist-prone, MAGA cult base that they would fail to turn out to vote for honorable Republicans in forthcoming elections. So it was that 43 Republicans voted to allow Trump to remain in office. Now, with their baseless and reprehensible attacks on the integrity of the Justice Department, Republicans continue inflict to inflict damage on American democracy.

Senate Republicans

Senate Republicans reached a fork in the road when Trump was impeached. One path led to removing him from office, and barring him from holding public office for instigting the January 6th, 2021, Insurrection. That was the right path, but it had a downside for them. It would so offend members of Trump’s rabid, insurrectionist-prone, MAGA cult base that they wouldn’t support them in forthcoming elections. So it was that 43 Republicans voted to allow Trump to remain in office. Now, with their baseless and reprehensible attacks on the integrity of the Justice Department, Republicans continue to damage on American democracy.

On the Need for Timely Wisdom

At 92, I’m wiser than I was when I was when I was 20, or even when I was 50, or even when I was 80. Whatever wisdom I have now could be condensed to a few basic principles that could be expressed on about half a page. Why didn’t I learn them by the time I was 20? For the felicitous playing out of future human history, we need to have more people getting wiser at an earlier age.

“Let us not burthen our remembrance with / A heaviness that’s gone” Prospero counseled. “Heaviness” is what I feel in the air right now. It describes a pervasive mood, the cause of which, I believe, is that so many Republicans, media moguls, and billionaire donors are poised to support Trump’s candidacy if he becomes the Republican Presidential nominee.

Judge Aileen Cannon, Continued

From what I’ve read, it looks like Judge Cannon, who will be presiding over Trump’s Miami trial, has the power to get him off the hook if she wants to do so. For instance, she could allow pro-Trump-biased jurors like herself to be impaneled. She would be shamed and subjected to withering professional criticism if she shows herself to be biased, but if, as it appears, she is a MAGA cult holy warrior, in her mind that would not be a humiliating consequence, but a reflection of her heroism — a source of enduring satisfaction.

Judge Aileen Cannon

It’s an unfortunate turn of events that Aileen Cannon, the judge assigned to preside in Trump’s federal criminal prosecution, is herself a proven loyal Trumpian. It seems likely that she’ll gum up the works, becloud the issues, and confuse the public. I’m hoping she’ll surprise me.

Third Party Threats to Democrats

I have a memory from the year 2000 of Ralph Nader being interviewed on television. Nader was running for President on the Green Party ticket. Asked why he wasn’t supporting Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, Nader said that there was no difference between Gore and George W. Bush, the Republican nominee. There was, in fact, a big difference between the two men. Nader drained enough votes away from Gore in Florida to enable Bush to win the election.

For 2024, it looks like there will be three Ralph Nader equivalents running, all of whom appear likely to drain votes away from Joe Biden, maybe enough to enable the Republican nominee, most likely Trump, to prevail. They are the African American left-wing professor Cornel West, the anti-vaccine fanatic with a big name — Robert Kennedy, Jr. — and whoever is picked to be the No Labels Party candidate.

Trump’s Second Indictment, continued

Having read a summary and excerpts from Trump’s 49-page indictment, I wonder if his best defense might be insanity of a sort. He’s a narcissist, a serial lier, and a scoundrel who, it seems obvious, has committed dozens upon dozens of serious crimes — the second indictment alone contains 37 felony counts. His criiminal mind is also a deranged one, so withdrawn from reality that he comes close to arousing sympathy. His conduct makes me think of a rabid dog, vicious, but helpless in the grip of a deadly virus. If, as is virtually certain, the evidence presented in court supports the allegations in the indictment, Trump should be convicted and incarcerated for a long term of years. He should, of course, be barred from holding public office. He should confined in one of his residences other than his palace in Palm Beach, rather than sent to prison. Otherwise, he should be accorded the rights accorded to federal prisoners and denied any special privileges.

Trump’s Second Indictment, Continued

Trump is presumed innocent unless and until he is convicted. He should and he will get a fair trial. The evidence against him is overwhelming. The eruptions of faux-outrage from prominent Republicans in response to his indictment on 37 felony counts by a federal grand jury is an exercise in pandering to Trump’s MAGA-cult following, whose support they think is essential to their political success. Trump is likely to be indicted later this year for two more sets of serious crimes.

Trump’s Second Indictment

Trump’s indictment on seven counts by a federal grand jury is a heartening demonstration that the rule of law is operative in our country. I’m confident that this prosecution will be pursued with impeccable professionalism and sobriety. Though Trump’s indictment was critically necessary for the survival and health of American democracy, it bespeaks how flawed America must be, when despite the orderly operation of electoral processes, such a scoundrel could become its president.

My Backup Illusion

As a resident of southwestern Colorado, I’ve occasionally cast an inquiring eye northward, musing about where one might flee to if our area becomes vulnerable to unprecedented heat waves, extrene drought, water rationing, and smoke-filled air. Is there a place that’s cooler, has a multitude of lakes, and where the sun in much less intense, and presumably almost wildfire-free? Yes! Canada!

So much for that idea. Where, then? Greenland! Yes! Let’s see — west coast or east coast?

My State of Mind after a Two-Week Break from Daily Blog

I’m greatly relieved that Republicans have ceded power to cause the United States to default on its debts until after next year’s elections. Now we can get back to worrying about other things, as anyone breathing the smoke-infiltrated air in much of New England, New York, and points south is aware.

Daily Blog Takes a Two-Week Break

Sara and I are heading east today on an extended trip, and this blog will be on break until June 7th. I fervently hope that the United States continues to pay its debts and fulfill its obligations in the meantime and thereafter. Awhile ago one of my favorite opinion writers commented that Trump was like a virus injected into the political bloodstream. As was the case with the Covid-19 virus, people debate the pathogen’s origin, but there’s no question that the nation is sick enough so we have to resort to the rule to follow in such times:Never despair.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis, Continued

Too mmany people haven’t grasped the enormity of what the Republicans are doing to this country, the cruelty of the agenda they would impose on us if Biden meets their demands as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, and the economic catastrophe and its baleful reverberations that would ensue if he refuses to do so. Republicans blithely raised the debt ceiling during the Trump administration to finance tax cuts and tax breaks for corporations, the rich, and especially the super rich. Now they purport to be staunch fiscal conservatives. Their main agenda is to do whatever they can to discredit Biden regardless of how much havoc they cause.

I agree with those who urge Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to justify the U.S. paying its bills on time without regard to the debt ceiling if no responsible agreement can be reached with Republicans. Biden should have his speech ready to deliver to the nation. The Solicitor General should have his brief ready to submit to the Supreme Court.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne got to the heart of the matter in his opinion piece yesterday: “House Republicans decided to hold the economy hostage to slash assistance for low-income Americans while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy”.

The F-16s

The F-16s are U.S.- manufactured supersonic fighter jets that Ukraine has long wanted to have to enhance its air defenses. After many months of reluctance to supply them, Biden has given European allies permission to send Ukraine some from their stockpiles, as well as to train Ukrainian fighter pilots. Biden has been sharply criticized for failing to act more swiftly in this respect. Why has he been so cautious, taking so much time in a number of instances to supply Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons? It may be that he has been calibrating supplying increasingly sophisticated weapons with great skill, following the frog in the pot of water analogue. It’s probably not true, but the story is that if you heat a pot of water with a frog in it, you can get the water to boiling without the frog jumping out because the frog only notices that the water is a little bit hotter than it was before, but there is never that shock to which the frog would instantly react. In Ukraine, Putin is in the pot of heating water, the heating consisting of the influx to Ukraine from the West of consistently more sophisticated and effective weapons. Putin jumping out of the pot would amount to escalating the war with nuclear weapons. If the West had heated the water too quickly, Putin might well have jumped out of the pot. He may still do so, but let’s hope he can be cooked before he does. A key factor here is the sentiment of the Russian people, which we want to be anti-Putin, not anti-the-West. We don’t want to feed Putin’s propagandistic narrative that the West wants to destroy Russia. Biden’s been doing pretty well at that.

Headline I read after I wrote the above: “Russia warns West sending F-16s to Ukraine ‘carries enormous risks’, per state news agency.” As has happened before, the frog noticed that the water was getting hotter and is splashing about, threatening to jump out of the pot. Maximize defense of Ukrainian territory and airspace, avoid attacks on Russian territory and airspace is the best policy.

Free and Unfair Elections

Headline: “Turkey points to a global trend: Free and unfair elections”

Autocrats like Erdogan, the president of Turkey, who has his runoff election against a democratic challenger all but wrapped up, can stay in power indefinitely and still brag about how elections in their countries are free: No one was compelled to vote for Erdogan. The results in the recent election, which triggered the runoff were something like 49% to 45%, giving it the look of a democratic election. But as the headline reflects, once rulers and political parties get enough power, they can institute rules and procedures that tilt elections in their favor. That’s what Republicans are trying to do by establishing gerrymandered districts and suppressing voting by constituencies likely to vote against them, undemocratic and unfair means aimed at establishing longterm one-party minority rule.

DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has announced that he will challenge Trump for the Republican nomination for president. DeSantis’s personality presents an ample contrast to Trump’s. But the two were cast in the same mold. DeSantis, in his own way, is no less mean-spirited, hypocritical, opportunistic, self-serving, and repulsive than Trump. Like Trump, he has a hole in his brain where in the case of most people humanity resides. It’s a measure of the degradation of Republicans that Trump and DeSantis are leading their pack.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis, Continued

Progress has supposedly been made in negotiations, but a familiar refrain issued forth: “The parties are still far apart.” Whatever concessions Republican House Speaker McCarthy might make are likely to be vetoed by the right-wing extremist Representatives at whose pleasure he serves. Theoretically, Biden could avail himself of the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that the validity of the government’s debt shall not be questioned. The debts in this case were authorized by law. The debt ceiling limit amounted to an unconstitutional questioning of the government’s debt. In the past week I’ve read three op-ed articles each by a distinguished Constitutional law professor, one supporting Biden’s right to pay debts without Congress’s sanction, one saying that Biden has no such right, and one saying that the Supreme Court would probably decline to issue a ruling, saying that it’s a political matter. How the right-wing-controlled, ideology-driven Court would rule is anybody’s guess. The situation feels as if it’s headed toward a train wreck.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis

As the noted economist Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column yesterday, Democrats should have tried a lot harder to abolish the debt ceiling when they had a chance during the lame duck session Subsequently, Biden made a red-line-in-the-sand-type declaration that he wouldn’t negotiate a budget on the terms Republicans were offering, which were: Meet our demands or we’ll cause the U.S. to default on its debts, suffer international humiliation and send the economy on a path to total collapse. Now it looks like Biden is caving in. Having taken an inch, Republicans will demand a mile, forcing Biden to either admit a humiliating defeat of such dimensions as to seriously diminish his chances of reelection, or to act boldly to save the country by invoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and declare that the debt ceiling is an unconstitutional questioning of the validity of the public debt. In a rational world the Supreme Court would uphold Biden. In our world this is unlikely. It’s hard to fault Biden for caving in.

(More on this tomorrow.)

The Turkish Election

When I read that the presidential election in Turkey was close — there would have to be a runoff — I felt a frisson of hope. President Erdogan is a strong-arm autocrat who has blocked Sweden’s entry into NATO. His opponent, Kilicdaroglu, is a Western-leaning democrat and would be a far more reliable ally if he were in power. Reality set in. Erdogan failed to get 50% of the votes — hence the runoff — but he got about ten percent more votes than Kilicdaroglu, and there’s no prospect that Kilicdaroglu can make up the deficit in the runoff. By their nature, autocrats are exceptionally difficult to dislodge. They put mechanisms in place that enable them to retain power. When they are defeated, it’s usually by another autocrat.

Dealing with Putin

Dealing with Putin is like dealing with a hostage taker.The hostages are all the people in the world including all the Russians. It’s likely that Putin is prepared to nuke Ukraine and its supporters if they humiliate him to a degree that threatens his grip on power. “He would never use nukes,” some experts say. “It would be suicidal.” The trouble with that argument is that it assumes that Putin wouldn’t prefer suicide to being humiliated. There’s no reason to believe that. “Well, maybe so,” some experts say, “but if he wanted to commit suicide, he could just hold a gun to his head and pull the trigger.” The trouble with that argument is that if Putin wants to commit suicide, he may be like many mass shooters who, when they die, want to take as many people with them as they can. We’ve seen that there’s no limit to the number of people, including Russian soldiers, Putin minds killing.

Russia’s War on Ukraine

Headline: “Zelensky, in private, plots bold attacks inside Russia, leak shows.”

Attacking sites in Russia plays into Putin’s hands. His false justification for launching a brutal war on Ukraine is that he’s protecting Russia from the demonic West. His propaganda will gain credence in Russia in proportion to the number of Russian people who are killed inside Russia as a result of the war. Much more preferable is for Russian people to feel increasing disgust with Putin and his abhorrent conduct. The West should provide Ukraine with everything it needs to keep Russia on the defensive and exact continuing high Russian casualties on Ukrainian soil. The ultimate peace treaty could provide that Ukraine will not join NATO, but Ukrainian sovereignty must be guaranteed by NATO. If Putin relents on key points, let him claim that he has saved Russia from the danger of being overwhelmed by the West.

The Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States; Comment

Article I
A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be abridged.

Article II*
Nothing in Article I will be construed to limit the right of individuals to bear arms that may be invented in the future that can fire multiple rounds at high speed for sustained lengths of time without reloading, thereby enabling shooters to kill dozens of people in almost no time at all.
____________________
Note: Article II does not exist. “Article I” is the entire text of the Second Amendment

Robert Reich: “Money in politics is the root of our dysfunction. . . The NRA buys off Congress. No action on guns.”

The Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States

Article I
A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be abridged.

Article II*
Nothing in Article I will be construed to limit the right of individuals to bear arms that may be invented in the future that can fire multiple rounds at high speed for sustained lengths of time without reloading, thereby enabling random shooters to kill dozens of people in almost no time at all.

____________________
* Note: Article II does not exist. “Article I” is the entire text of the Second Amendment.

Notes from Surreal Land

So much that is abnormal has become normal that we have to be especially alert to keep from sinking into relativism, exhaustion, fatalism, and despair. Are we really living in a world where a former president who tried to stage a coup has been indicted in New York and is the subject of multiple criminal investigations, one or more of which will likely lead to additional indictments, is the leading Republican candidate for the next presidential election? If that’s not surreal enough for you, consider that (i) Trump has several prominent probable opponents in the race for the Republican presidential nomination; (ii) a few days ago, a New York jury found him liable for sexual assault and defamation; and (iii) none of his probable opponents took that as an occasion to criticize him. That’s not because they don’t despise him. It’s because they are terrified of alienating people in the Trump cult — the large segment of Republican voters who are so demented, deluded, or morally degraded that they are unshakably loyal to an individual whose sociopathic characteristics are writ large for all to see.

The Abnormal Party

In a recent Washington Post column, E.J. Dionne reminds readers what is not normal about Republicans: Among other indications: threatening to impair the nation’s credit-worthiness and wreck the economy if Democrats don’t accede to their extremist demands; using their power in the courts and state legislatures to warp elections and secure one-party rule; employing strong-arm tactics to remove books from libraries and strip curriculums to satisfy the White Christian Nationalists and their like. Dionne could also have mentioned — maybe he did and I missed it — blocking sensible gun safety measures and creating misery and hardship for millions through forced birth policies. And he could have added more.

A Nonexistential Issue for a Change.

Headline: “Wolves are introduced into Colorado.” Wolves may be needed in parts of Australia that are overrun with rabbits, but not in Colorado, which is overrun with people, vehicles, cattle, and dogs.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis — Saving the Country from Default

Yesterday, I was glad to read an Op-Ed by Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s most distinguished Constitutional law Professors, affirming both President Biden’s right and his duty to adhere to his oath of office to preserve and protect the Constitution by directing that debts of the United States previously authorized by Congress be paid as they become due. It makes sense morally, practically, and legally that, as Tribe says, having created these debts, Congress cannot “invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding.” Tribe supplies apt language that Biden should include in a speech explaining and justifying and his action. I hope this approach carries the day.

Putin / Ukraine / the West

Headline: “As Putin bides his time, Ukraine faces a Ticking Clock.” The fear is that Ukraine can’t endure this horror as long as Putin can, and that the West will get tired of helping Ukraine keep up its resistance. That would be sad indeed. So long as Ukraine wants to fight on, it would be morally indefensible for the West (primarily NATO members) to fail to help Ukraine economically and militarily as much, and for as long, as is practicable.

Sadly and tragically, at the moment there is no discernible way in which the West can bring the war to a rational conclusion. Defying Putin is dangerous. Appeasing Putin is dangerous.

Realpolitik

This is a word that aptly characterizes the policies of countries that in pursuit of their own perceived self-interest refuse to support Ukraine and give solace to Putin by trying to keep in his good graces. India, Brazil, Pakistan, and Egypt, for example, are doing what they think is good for themselves without regard to Russia’s brutal war of aggression. It’s also a word that aptly characterizes the policies of the large majority of Republicans who, by supporting or tolerating Trump, are doing what they perceive to be good for themselves without regard to his despicable character and behavior and the danger that he and his supporters and emulators pose to the United States and to the whole world.

Eight Crises

1. The debt ceiling crisis.

2. The anti-democratic, authoritarian-seeking moves by state legislatures controlled by Republican super-majorities.

3. Republicans’ continued support and tolerance for, and emulation of, Trump and Trumpian behavior.

4 The transition of the Supreme Court into an ideologically driven and ethically substandard institution.

5 The nuclear war threat from Russia, China, and North Korea.

6. The long-term threat to humanity of climate change

7. The long-term threat to humanity of artificial intelligence.

8. The continuing trend toward gross income and wealth inequality.

Staring at Armageddon of Sorts

Headline: “Biden and congressional leaders may have just 6 working days to find a debt limit solution.” It’s hard to see how this can happen. The solution requires the cooperation of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The key “congressional leader” referred to in the headline is the Republican Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy. But to attain that lofty title, McCarthy had to promise the most extreme elements in the Party that he would bend to their will. He is in no position to exercise leadership. Unless Democrats can find five honorable Republicans to defy their party and vote to raise the debt ceiling, default seems highly likely, unless, as a last desperate resort, Biden ignores the debt ceiling limit, citing the authority of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and orders the Treasury to meet U.S. debt obligations, whereupon soon thereafter the issue will be resolved, for better or for vastly worse, by the Supreme Court.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis, Continued

Democrats are exploring another long shot hope for preventing the U.S. from defaulting on its debts. It’s called a “discharge petition,” an esoteric procedure whereby the Democrats could bring about a clean vote on a bill to raise the debt ceiling despite opposition of the Republican majority to its being considered. To pass this sensible measure would require that five of the 222 Republicans in the House sign on to it. Any of them who do are likely to be shunned thereafter by the Party leadership. The price of doing the honorable thing would likely be the loss of one’s political career.

Remember Diogenes, who walked around ancient Athens with a lamp, looking for an honest man. That’s what the Democratic leaders are doing right now, searching for five Republicans who care more about saving the economy and America’s reputation than their political standing.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis, Continued

Headline: “U.S. could run out of cash by June 1, {Secretary of the Treasury} Yellen warns.” Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will be conferring next week, it’s reported. The trouble is that even if they can work something out, it’s highly unlikely that McCarthy can get his right-wing-extremist dominated, authoritarian-seeking, nihilistically inclined Republican caucus to go along with it. In the event that the crisis is not resolved through negotiation, I hope that Biden will have an exemplary speech prepared to deliver to the nation, explaining why he is preventing default under the authority of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and that the Government will have a brief prepared to submit to the Supreme Court supporting the legitimacy of his action. May sanity and good will carry the day.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis Looms Closer

Headline: “Defaulting on the national debt is much closer than anyone realizes.”

If Republicans controlling the House of Representatives carry through with their threat to freeze the debt ceiling, Biden will have to breach it in order to pay debts of the United States previously authorized by Congress and the President. He would cite as his authority for doing so the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… will not be questioned.” Whether the Supreme Court would rule in favor of Biden — thereby saving the United States from a catastrophic economic meltdown and international humiliation carrying with it a sharply increased national security risk — is anybody’s guess.

A.I

A great number of A.I. experts have called for a pause on A.I. development while we consider the implications and ramifications of this revolutionary development. A pause certainly seems desirable, but I don’t see any chance that it will happen. The people who most need to pause are the least likely to do so. Does anyone think China will pause? We may need A.I. to figure out how to pause itself.

The Cold Wars

The United States is in cold wars with Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. The risk of military confrontation with each of them is growing. The risk of nuclear war is growing. This no time for a cold civil war in our country, but with the House of Representatives controlled by right-wing authoritarian-minded extremists who are threatening to cause the United States to default on its debts, the leading Republican presidential candidate likely to be under indictment on multiple counts in multiple federal and state jurisdictions before election day next year, and an ethically compromised Supreme Court controlled by right-wing ideologues, we are in one. Churchill once said, “You can always count on the United States to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else.” We need to get through everything else fast.

The Debt Ceiling Crisis

A Washington Post editorial last evening urges Biden to call the Republican Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, and try to work out a compromise to save the United States from defaulting on its debts, a calamity that would have incalcuable negative reverberations. The only path to resolving the crisis would seem to be a compromise measure that a sufficient number of Democrats and Republicans would agree to. This seems unlikely to happen, because almost all the Republicans in the House are authoritarian-seeking extremists, and nothing short of a humiliating and precedent-setting surrender on the part of the Democrats would satisfy them. They may think, with some reason, that putting the blame on Biden for America defaulting on its debts would be their best hope for taking back the White House in 2024. In the end, I think that Biden will have to act unilaterally, citing Constitutional authority, to prevent a default and that it will be up to the right-wing dominated Supreme Court to save us. I’m not at all sure that it will be so inclined.

The Debt Crisis Intensifies

Headline: “House passes GOP debt ceiling bill, as U.S. inches toward fiscal crisis.”

The bill is a compendium of right-wing extremist demands. There’s no chance that the senate will pass it, and Biden has said he would veto it if it reached his desk. Republicans presume that by threatening to cause the United States to default on its debts, all of which have all been previously authorized by Congress, the Democratic leadership will be forced to accede to their agenda. This is a case of non-prosecutable extortion. If Biden stands fast, Republicans won’t raise the debt limit, causing a default and resulting in an economic calamity. Republicans will blame the Democrats for it. They’ll repeat again and again: The meltdown happened on Biden’s watch; he is responsible for it; it would never have happened if Trump (or DeSantis (or whoever is the Republican nominee) were in the White House; elect a Republican to restore the nation’s honor and economic health. They will repeat this message day after day, hoping that enough people will believe it.

It looks more than ever to me as if Biden will have to act unilaterally to prevent a default, citing his authority to do so under the Constitution. It’s a mystery how the Supreme Court, controlled by right-wing ideologues, will rule on the issue. There’s reason to hope, but not to be optimistic.

Right Wing Media Performance Art: Could It Be Wearing Thin?

Some observers have expressed optimism that the ousting of the demagogic propagandist Tucker Carlson from Fox News might be a sign of a turning tide. Carlson was a master of phony outrage, whipping up hatred, mounting baseless attacks, reeling off racist rants, and doling out phony stories with affected deep-felt conviction that distinguished his tenure as a Fox TV star. For a large segment of the population, listening to characters like Carlson and his fulminating exemplar, Rush Limbaugh, was intoxicating –- inducing suspension of disbelief in the impoverished minds of millions of followers. Perhaps it is so. Performance art of this kind may be wearing thin.

A Particularly Troubling Authoritarian Trend

In a perceptive column in yesterday’s Washington Post, veteran journalist Karen Tumulty discussed what is probably the greatest threat to American democracy, the proliferation of state legislatures with supermajorities of right-wing authoritarian-seeking Republicans who seek to entrench their power through anti-democratic measures, including gerrymandering state legislative and Congressional districts, instituting measures to suppress voting by those more likely to vote for Democrats, empowering partisan commissions to remove elected district attorneys, and changing requirements for ballot initiatives to prevent the exercise of popular will on issues such as forced birth and gun safety laws. The overall picture is that of an insidious, creeping process in which democratic institutions and safeguards are gradually whittled away until what’s left can no longer be called a democratic form of government.

The Debt Crisis That Looms Larger Every Day

Headline: “Biden is running out of time to avoid calamitous debt ceiling outcomes”

Meet our demands for spending cuts, or we’ll refuse to raise the debt ceiling thereby causing an economic meltdown, humiliating and weakening the United States of America. That’s the Republicans’ ultimatum. Biden’s position is that he will negotiate, but not with a gun held to his head. Possible financial Armageddon is six to eight weeks away.

Biden giving in to this strong-arm tactic would be tantamount to ceding control of public policy to the extreme-right wing-authoritarian-seeking cabal that controls the House of Representatives even though Democrats control the presidency and the Senate.

I think it’s likely that Biden will have to resort to an unprecedented measure to prevent an unprecedented default: invoking a provision of Constitution requiring that the U. S. meet its obligations. Nihilist Republicans would challenge this, and the issue would soon come before the right-wing extremist-dominated Supreme Court. How they would decide such a case is a mystery to me and may even be a mystery to experts on the Constitution and on the Court.

The Problem with Meat and Dairy Products

Peter Singer, a Princeton philosophy professor, has long been a strong voice for treating animals better. He makes convincing case in a New York Times op-ed this morning that best way to do that is to not eat them, which is also the fastest and easiest way to slow global warming. Singer’s position strikes a lot of people as extreme, but he points out that not that many decades ago the movement to sharply restrict cigarette smoking seemed extreme. Now it seems to be basic common sense. I’m convinced that if we lived in an enlightened society, consumption of meat and dairy products would be a tiny fraction of what they are now.

My Life and Times with Bard

Yesterday I initiated a second conversation with Google’s new chatBot, Bard. I wanted to get Bard’s opinion on the argument Ivan Karamazov was making in The Grand Inquisitor episode in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. Bard was somewhat helpful in its responses, but made two statements that were inconsistent with each other. I pointed this out and asked Bard how it could reconcile them. I expected that Bard might try to slither around my question the way politicians do when they are overcome by a strong urge to change the subject. Instead, Bard, replied, “I apologize if my previous statements were contradictory. I am still under development and learning to communicate more clearly.” I immediately felt empathy toward Bard and wondered if I’d been overly judgmental. There’s seems to be a natural tendency to anthropomorphize an entity that talks as much like a human as Bard does. Next time I’ll try to access Open A.I.’s ChatBotGPT. Don’t tell Bard about this. I don’t want to hurt its feelings.

Criminal Minds at Work

Republicans are threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, causing the U.S. to default on its obligations, even though they were previously authorized by Congress and the President. This catastrophe could happen within the next couple of months. That sounds terrible, and Republicans agree that it would be terrible, but they say that of course it won’t happen because all that’s necessary to keep it from happening is for Democrats to agree with us on cutting government expenditures on food stamps, student loans and in a few other respects.

This tactic isn’t prosecutable, but it’s extortion, a crime usually associated with mob bosses. Republicans are saying, “We love the U.S. and the world economy — they are so important. It would be a shame if something happened to them because you wouldn’t agree to cut expenditures for food stamps and student loans.”

The Fox News / Dominion Voting System Settlement, Continued

On April 6th, I recommended Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin’s online Friday Q & A “chats” with readers. They have since been rescheduled to be held on Wednesdays. What interested me most in yesterday’s session was the discussion of the settlement of Dominion Voting Systems libel law suit against Fox. Fox’s agreement to pay Dominion 787 billion dollars in damages was an acknowledgement of the likelihood that Dominion could not only prove that Fox falsely reported that Dominion’s voting machines were faulty, but also that Fox knew that it was airing false information with the malicious intent of supporting Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Rubin speculates that more libel litigation against Fox is coming. That would be welcome. The more it’s publicized how Fox News operates, the more it will seep into public consciousness that Fox is not a legitimate news organization, but a right-wing propaganda disseminator.

The Fox News / Dominion Voting Machine Settlement

You’re probably aware that Fox News settled the Dominion Voting Systems 1.6 billion dollar defamation suit. Fox will pay Dominion 787 billion dollars in damages for maliciously and knowingly “reporting” — in support of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen — that Dominion’s voting machines were faulty. Justice was done to a degree. It wasn’t done with regard to the enormous damage Fox News has inflicted on the public and on American democracy. Let’s hope that this episode enlightened a significant number of Fox News viewers as to this network’s basic function in the world as a cynical and vicious disseminator of right-wing propaganda.

Worrying Times

Eons ago there was a popular PBS television show called “Wall Street Week.” For a half hour every Friday evening, the host, Louis (Lou) Rukeyser, questioned a panel of experts on the outlook for the economy and for individual industries and companies. One of the panelists was a dour-looking but exceptionally smart fellow whose name I forget, but I’ll call Henry. One night, before asking Henry for his opinion, Lou said, “You’re looking worried this evening, Henry,” to which Henry replied, “I’m always worried, Lou.” I’ve thought of that remark — and state of mind — lately, thinking about all the troubles our country and the world face: the tension building between China and the U.S. and the threat of war over Taiwan, Putin’s maniacal war against Ukraine, the transformation of the Republican Party into a agglomeration of cynical politicians bereft of constructive policy goals and bent on sattaining authoritarian rule, the transformation of the Supreme Court into an ideologically driven institution, the apparently insurmountable challenges of climate change. The list goes on. If Lou were questioning Henry, tonight, it’s a good bet that Henry would say, “I’ve never been so worried, Lou.”

The Owners of the Republican Party

Washington Post Columnist E. J. Dionne: “The Republican Party is now wholly owned by the gun lobby.”

The Republican Party was self-owned before it sold out. Now it’s co-owned by the gun lobby, the forced birth enthusiasts, the anti-science / anti-vaccination enthusiasts, the avaricious plutocrats, the white Christian nationalists, the conspiracy fabricators, and loose coalitions of the embittered, the resentful, and the deluded.

How a Scoundrel Like Trump or DeSantis Might Beat Biden in 2024.

It’s likely that too many people rightly distrust and dislike Trump and DeSantis for either of them to beat Biden in the 2024 presidential race, unless a heavily financed and promoted, seemingly centrist and capable third-party candidate enters the race — someone who would syphon off a great many more votes that would otherwise go to Biden than to Trump or DeSantis. That’s what the “No Labels” initiative appears to be bent on doing. If you’re an extreme right-wing, authoritarian-minded, dark money dispensing multi-billionaire, your megabucks may be more effective in getting Trump or DeSantis elected if you funnel them to the No Labels campaign than to the Trump or DeSantis campaign. It will be fascinating, though scary, to see how the political struggle evolves during the barely more than eighteen months to the 2024 elections.

Ominous News of the Day

Each day when I check the news, I come across an ominous headline or story. It takes considerable composure not to be unnerved by the drumbeat of oncoming doom. I should cite an example.

Here’s one picked at random. A heavily financed coalition with heavy-weight supporters calling itself “No Labels” is working to field a presidential nominee who will appeal to people who don’t favor either the Democratic or Republican nominee. An article I read about this movement referred to the 2000 election in which Ralph Nader won 97,000 votes in Florida, which Al Gore lost to G. W. Bush by 537 votes. There’s no question that Gore lost many more votes to Nader than Bush did. Nader gave us Bush. There’s a serious danger that No Labels could give us Trump or DeSantis, either of which would be a far worse calamity.

Be assured: Despite the wealth of material, I’m not going to turn this blog into “the ominous news of the day.”

Superyachts and Schooners

According to a report I read, there are more than 5,500 superyachts in the world — these are private vessels over 100’- long. I read that Jeff Bezos had one built in the Netherlands that’s 500’-long, or cost 500 million dollars, I forget which — maybe both. Superyachts are not boats, but ships, which I believe is the proper definition of a vessel big enough to carry one or more boats on board. I imagine carrying a helicopter would qualify as well.

I only got through college because I had a full scholarship provided by the U.S. Navy, but I had a friend there whose family was very rich, and he invited me once with some others on a cruise from Cape May, New Jersey, to Newport, Road Island, on his family’s 60’-long schooner. (Schooner rigs are particularly beautiful for some reason.) There was a permanent crew of two guys, though my friend and the other guests were all experienced sailors, so we acted as crew too. I thought that this boat (we never referred to it as a ship) was as beautiful to look at, be on, and sail, as anything that floats could be. I can’t imagine anyone wanting a superyacht in its place.

Why So Many People Vote for Republicans

Why are so many people inclined to vote for Republicans, even though Republicans are so regressive and anti-democratic and their leading candidate for president tried to overturn the last presidential election? In her weekly “chat” yesterday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted that there’s more than one explanation. Among them: 1) Republican politicians have successfully exploited the fears and resentments of people who feel ignored and left behind; 2) a lot of people have been exposed to so much right-wing propaganda that they’ve lost touch with reality.

Republicans: United in Support of Bad Policies, continued

Robert Reich: “The Republican Party is no longer committed to democracy. It is rapidly becoming the American fascist party.” Headline: “The effort to suppress the vote is spreading to the Republican main stream.” Books have been and will be written about this historic trend. It involves an agglomeration of disparate factions which have in common that their members are ideologues — people so enraptured with a particular issue or cause or causes or set of beliefs that they block out all other considerations, including honesty, decency, compassion, and respect for the rule of law. In states where Republicans patch together robust coalitions of such factions they can achieve supermajorities in the state legislature, the judiciary, and the executive branch, thereby gaining sufficient power to ratchet up their control sufficiently so that through gerrymandering and other anti-democratic stratagems they can move closer to achieving unassailable one-party rule.

Republicans: United in Support of Bad Policies

It’s understandable that Republicans are united in support of cutting taxes on big corporations and the rich and especially the super rich, opposing social safety nets, and ignoring the negative consequences of extreme wealth and income inequality — that’s in accord with their core ideology for as long as I can remember. But did it ever strike you as odd how united the G.O.P is in opposing gun safety measures, working to make voting more difficult, pushing for forced birth laws, opposing clean air and water regulations and climate initiatives, nurturing conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination proponents, and so forth? Why are Republican leaders so unified in welcoming factions that support such a diversity of regressive and destructive policies? It’s uncanny and it’s tragic. More about this tomorrow.

Happy Spring, Worrisome Though It Be

Happy Spring is the way I feel when it starts getting warmer and the daffodils bloom. If only there weren’t so much to be concerned about: Can the West supply enough aid to Ukraine so they can keep holding the Russians off? How did this disastrous leak of intelligence about Russia and Ukraine happen? China is practicing invading Taiwan. I don’t like ideology-driven judges and legislators curbing women’s basic rights: five years in jail for helping a pregnant Idaho teenager travel to a state where she can get an abortion? Barbaric. The nasty-minded Trumpian-type Republicans controlling the House of Representatives aren’t going to suddenly become honest, decent, and sane. Will they cause a monumental debt crisis in a couple of months? Fighting climate change is looking increasingly like a hopeless situation. How can inflation be brought down without causing a bad recession?What about this A. I. business and the emotional psychic damage done by social media? Enough of this, I’m thinking, but then I realize that I’m anxious about what I’ve left off this list. Oh yes. Guns. It’s sickening the way gun enthusiasts and manufacturers and dark money donors and feckless legislators perpetuate our slaughter-prone condition. And banning books! Distorted-mind types like Florida governor DeSantis are ruling too many roosts. The English have an expression they use — “muddle through.” I hope we can muddle through.It’s probably the best we can do.

Justice Clarence Thomas, Continued

I remember decades ago reading that the most prestigious job in the United States was that of being justice of the Supreme Court. That is surely not the case today, not because the justices have less power, authority, and moral responsibility than they once had, but because a majority of them have chosen to prioritize their ideologies and personal gratification over the solemn duties of their office and to our country.

Justice Clarence Thomas

Just as some progress was made in demonstrating that no person is above the law (Trump’s indictment by a New York State grand jury), it has now been revealed that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is, if not above the law, above minimal ethical standards. For a span of over two decades, he apparently accepted and did not report, luxury vacations including travel on private jets and on a yacht paid for by a super rich real estate mogul and lavish Republican donor. I read that the rule was that if a Supreme Court Justice accepts a gift for over $415, he or she must report it. According to Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, one of Thomas’s jaunts alone would have cost Thomas $500,000, if he had paid for it himself. It’s understood that justices should be allowed to maintain normal personal friendships. As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes, “Maintaining ‘normal personal friendships’ doesn’t require spending nine days touring the Indonesian islands on a private yacht with a man who has spent millions promoting conservative causes.”

Keeping a Journal or Something Like It

Keeping a journal or diary is good mental exercise and has the advantage of generating a record of what’s happened in one’s life, amplifying and clarifying memory of past years. Putting thoughts and observations on paper requires you to organize, sharpen, and in some respects revise your thinking. As the playwright Ionesco said, “I write to find out what I think.”

I recently received a copy of the latest volume of a journal a friend who has been keeping a journal for decades. Turns out it makes for great reading. I’ve never been motivated to follow his example, but I think I’ve achieved some of the same benefits he has from writing a daily blog and books and essays.

Keeping Up with the News

We have only so much time and shouldn’t spend more than that to keep up with the news. Watching TV, you want to get a high yield of substantive information and illuminating commentary from any segment you devote time to. Topping the list for me (and pretty much completing the list) is Chris Hayes’s show, “All In,” on MSNBC. Among other investigations, I check what columnists are writing about in the Washington Post and the New York Times. Some I avoid, some I read occasionally, and some frequently. The one I consider to be the best and almost never miss is Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin. I especially look forward to transcripts of her Friday Q &A “chats” with readers. Here’s a 14-word sample of her writing: “Trump remains a threat to democracy and a black hole for truth and decency.” If only it were just Trump!

Yesterday Was Quite a Day

Trump finally got indicted. The case against him is solid factually, but whether he’s guilty of felonies or only misdemeanors may turn on questions of not-so-settled law. In any case, he was proved to be not above the law. He had to show up and listen to the charges against him. His magical persona lost some sheen. Of course he made an incendiary speech afterwards. It will be a good thing for the country if he is indicted for the most serious of his other crimes.

A great victory for democracy and decency occurred in Wisconsin. Janet Protasiewicz, the progressive candidate for the state’s Supreme Court, soundly defeated her right-wing opponent, spreading hope that Wisconsin’s forced birth laws and extreme gerrymandering on behalf of Republicans will be overturned.

Finland joined NATO! This was a major advance in strengthening the alliance of democratic countries holding the line against countries governed by bullying and bellicose dictators.

Asa Hutchinson

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the Republicans in Congress were suddenly transformed into old-fashioned, honorable conservatives who believed in being truthful and adhering to and supporting the rule of law. There still are some Republicans like that. One of them, former governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson, has announced that he’s running for the Republican presidential nomination. Unlike the vast majority of his fellow Party members, Hutchinson has been forthright and unequivocal in his criticism of Trump. His entry into the race should prove to be a tonic, even though at the moment it seems that he doesn’t have a chance.

Republican Faux Outrage

Right-wing Trump supporters and tolerators raised a great clamor of faux outrage over news that Trump was indicted by a New York grand jury. Scores of Republican office holders and their allies in the media acted as if the grand jury voted for indictment only because the district attorney prosecuting the case wants to get revenge on Trump. It’s taboo for them to say that Trump is above the law, so they have to affect certainty that Trump (of all people!) could not possibly be guilty of a crime.

Apparently, the indictment contains as many as thirty counts. If so, it means that the grand jury concluded that Trump probably committed as many as thirty crimes. When the indictment is unsealed tomorrow and we see what the charges are, Trump supporters and tolerators will each have to express up to thirty instances of faux outrage.

Google’s Chatbot

I recently initiated a conversation with Google’s new chatbot, Bard, asking an initial question and following up on it. Our conversation consisted of six questions I asked and six responses by Bard. My first question was: “I’ve read that the universe may be of infinite size. If it is, wouldn’t space have had to have expanded at an infinite rate since the Big Bang?”

Bard replied with varying degrees of responsiveness to my questions, then elaborated on its answer, often with what seemed like stock material. Twice it began a reply by saying, “I understand your confusion.” This seems to have been a scripted attempt to express empathy while projecting a sense of authoritativeness. It wasn’t effective in that regard, because in neither instance did I think that I had exhibited confusion, and at least one its sentences was internally inconsistent.

Overall Impression: Bard was somewhat informative, but less adept than I thought it might be. I’m sure it will become more sophisticated in time. I’m hoping to try Open A.I.’s ChatGPT and compare how it handles the same line of questioning, but whenever I try to access it, it says,“Try again in an hour.” In a New York Times article the other day, Brian X. Chen reported on having compared the two and found ChatGPT to be considerably more advanced than Bard.

Republican Reaction to Trump’s First Indictment

Looking down deep this week, we had a brightly lit view of the moral pit into which the vast majority of Republican politicians have sunk. In echoing Trump’s wildly false accusations concerning his indictment, they have in effect been asserting that he is above the law. They’re acting this way, not out of honest conviction, but to gain favor with the MAGA cult base, whose support they believe is necessary if they are to prevail in Repubican primaries. Their behavior should elicit disgust from every fair-minded person.

Trump’s First Indictment

Trump has been indicted in a proceeding in New York State. Three more indictments, each relating to far more serious crimes, are likely during the coming months. It’s not expected that any of them will deter Trump from continuing to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Trump’s principal opponent for the nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has said that he would not assist in extraditing Trump. It’s unlikely that extradition will be required. DeSantis, by saying that he would in effect block it, is hoping to gain favor with the MAGA cult crowd. It would be a dark day indeed for America if Trump refuses to budge and DeSantis tries to block extradition. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in lawsuits involving states. If New York sued Florida demanding that Florida extradite Trump, even the present right-wing extremist-controlled Court would probably order Florida to comply. Hopefully, Trump will show up in court next week.

Nibbling Away at Democracy

Trump and his allies tried to overthrow American democracy and replace it with authoritarian rule, and there’s no doubt that they will try to do it again if they get the chance. Our democracy is not only vulnerable to a coup, it’s vulnerable to being nibbled away. Nibblers are working at it all the time. This week a particularly big bite is being taken out of democracy in Georgia. The Republican-controlled legislature is setting up a commission that will have arbitrary non-reviewable power to remove elected district attorneys they don’t like — like ones that are conducting grand jury investigations of politicians who appear to have tried to get the Georgia Secretary of State to commit election fraud. The Republican governor will probably sign the bill into law.

The Race for the Republican Presidential Nomination

A lot of Republicans have doubts about Trump’s ability to win the presidential election in 2024; they wish that they could field a candidate who would have a better chance of beating their Democratic opponent. The trouble is that no Republican the MAGA cult crowd shuns can win the general election, and it appears that the MAGA cult crowd will shun anyone who isn’t Trump.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is trying to change that. He’s trying to win over a lot of people in the MAGA cult crowd even though he isn’t Trump. To accomplish this he’s been engaging in race-baiting, xenophobia, misogyny, and playing up to Christian nationalists, all practices that appeal to people in the MAGA cult crowd. It’s not likely he’ll succeed. As Jennifer Rubin noted in a Washington Post column yesterday, try as he might, DeSantis doesn’t come close to being as good as Trump at race-baiting, xenophobia, misogyny and playing up to Christian nationalists. DeSantis is a dogged man, however, and he’ll probably keep trying.

The News Yesterday

What a sickening news day yesterday. Another mass school shooting by another crazed gun owner, unrestrained by our gun lobby-subservient legislators. Republican-controlled Georgia passes a law that allows the Republican governor to remove local district attorneys who are honorable enough to prosecute people who commit crimes in the process of trying to overturn fair elections. On slightly brighter side, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been trying to turn Israel into an autocracy with himself as the ruling autocrat and the courts subservient to his will, but the good people of that country protested and struck in such massive numbers and with such a display of righteous outrage that the scoundrel-in-chief put his judicial system destruction plan on hold for the moment, though, as Tom Friedman headed his column in The New York Times this morning, “Netanyahu can’t be trusted.” Hope abides, though times are tough and mean.

Trump and Republican Voters

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, a wise man if there ever was one, commented yesterday on how there was no widespread criticism by Republicans of Trump’s crazed and despicable attacks on the Manhattan District Attorney as an “animal” and a “degenerate psychopath,” nor any Republican condemnation of Trump’s threat of “death and destruction” if he is indicted. According to an authoritarian Republican pollster, only 10 percent of Republicans are “Never Trump” voters, a fact that is indicative that the great majority of Republican voters are either deluded or depraved.

An Echo of the Past

Though history doesn’t repeat itself, it’s permeated with reverberations. In the late 1930s the Western democracies — the allies — were menaced by the axis of Germany, Italy, and Japan, three heavily armed powers bent on conquest. Now, about 85 years later, the allies are menaced by the axis of Russia and China, two nuclear armed powers bent on conquest.

Hitler seized Czechoslovakia and got away with it, but when he invaded Poland, war began in earnest. Putin seized Crimea and got away with it, but when he invaded the heart of Ukraine, war began in earnest. In this instance, the allies have participated only indirectly because of fear of escalation that could lead to nuclear war. All we know at the moment is that fraught years lie ahead.

Trump’s Warning

Headline: “Trump warns of ‘potential death and destruction’ if he’s charged in hush-money case.” He seems to be saying that his supporters will riot, kill people, and destroy property. If that’s what he thinks, shouldn’t he try to dissuade them from doing so? And shouldn’t Republican office holders admonish him for using such inflammatory rhetoric? We would fall out of our chairs if they did. Those who are accepting of Trump’s behavior have sunk to his level.

Trump’s Broad Appeal

New York Times opinion writer Thomas Edsall conducted a careful analysis of studies that tried to ascertain the secret of Trump’s appeal to so many millions of voters. Earlier studies centered on Trump’s appeal to racists. Edsall found it to be much broader. Racists are drawn to Trump, but apparently no less so than others who are consumed with resentment, thrive on chaos, exude hostility, or are attracted to nihilism.

Sticking by Trump

Headline: “Republicans are once again sticking by Trump as an indictment looms.” This is the case even though most of them would be delighted if Trump were eliminated from running. Their reason for sticking is that any Republican who doesn’t follow the “Trump-is-being persecuted” script would be challenged by an opponent with impeccable Trumpian credentials in the next Republican primary. Given the composition of Republican voters, you have to stick with Trump to get the Republican nomination for office. Doing so is morally indefensible, but not stupid.

Republicans, Russia, and China

In a recent Washington Post column, Max Boot pointed out that many Republicans in Congress believe that China presents a serious security threat and that we must take a strong stance toward that country; yet they lean toward cutting back on our aid to Ukraine. They don’t seem to realize that to allow Russia to conquer Ukraine would be to grant to Xi Jinping proof of America’s faithlessness and lack of resolve, a green light for China to conquer Taiwan.

Should Trump Be Given Deference Because He Is a Former President?

Trump is facing possible indictment in federal and state jurisdictions for at least four crimes. The least important of these appears to be imminent. Trump recently said that he would be arrested today — he called on the populace to stage protests.

Many prominent Republicans, including right-wing media figures and potential political rivals of Trump, have parroted his complaint that he is being persecuted. Trump’s allies have tried and continue to try to persuade the public that it would be a terrible thing to indict a former president, that it would introduce a culture of political retaliation that would imperil our democracy. They urge that Trump be treated with special deference,

This disingenuous line of argument reminds me of a sentence in an opinion by the great jurist Benjamin Cardozo: “A fiduciary is held to something higher than the standards of the marketplace.”

As President of the United States, Trump had a fiduciary duty to all its citizens; yet, because of his former status as President, his supporters and apologists urge that he be held to a lower standard –– in fact, lower than that required in the marketplace! I have a good idea what Cardozo would say to that.

The Kind of Person DeSantis Is

I learned from a Washington Post article that, as a young lawyer, DeSantis advised the military on what latitude they had in treating prisoners at Guantanamo. DeSantis approved force-feeding prisoners to quell a hunger strike. This is the kind of person DeSantis is and sufficient reason to disqualify him as a candidate to be president of the United States.

The Will to Believe

Thinking doesn’t make it so, except maybe in a narrow sense it can. In an article in yesterday’s online New York Times, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist David Linden postulates a physical means in which consciously directed brain activity may be able to affect cancer progression — he himself has cancer of the heart wall, yet he has outlived his predicted life continuance limit.

Linden admits that his theory is speculative, but he says that it could be testable. In any case, your mental state affects the efficacy of your immune system. In certain circumstances it may pay off to the have “the will to believe.”

Travel Notes

March 17:

Seven a.m: Startled by a succession of blaring emergency noises from the speaker in our room at a Miami Airport hotel.

Twenty minutes later: shorter screeching noises followed by an announcement that the earlier one was a false alarm

Elevator out of service: Walked down eight flights of stairs with suitcases

Shuttle to airport delayed twelve minutes in arriving back from airport

flight delayed one hour.

flight delayed an additional fifty minutes.

Second flight delayed; made it plenty of time.

Stood in “jetway” corridor with other passengers while boarding stoopped for ten minutes for unknown reason.

Plane stayed at gate after boarding completed for fifteen minutes for unknown reason.

Got home.

The foregoing is far from the travel horror stories like some I’ve heard about, but does make me wonder whether generally things aren’t working as well as they used to.

Tax Collection

The rich and super rich not only benefit from tax cuts, loopholes, and subsidies that their lobbyists, tax lawyers, and accountants have secured for them, a study estimates that they also get away with not paying over $100 billion in taxes per year that they owe. Corruption on this scale gives would-be tax cheats the impression that violating the law is tolerated. When corruption is perceived as being normal, it spreads. We need a well-managed and well-funded IRS to enforce the tax laws. Underfunding the IRS promotes cheating, breeds cynicism, erodes faith in government, and tends to run up the government’s annual deficit.

The U.S. – China Face-off

Yesterday I read a chilling article in The Economist about how war
over Taiwan might begin and play out. An accompanying editorial was cheerfully titled “How to Avoid World War III.” The authors offered some less-than-reassuring suggestions and concluded that “The two rival systems must somehow learn to live together less dangerously.” Our strategic planners need to be a lot more imaginative than that in their thinking.

DeSantis

Headline: “DeSantis dismisses Russian invasion of Ukraine as a ‘territorial dispute’ This news item should dispose of any lingering notion that DeSantis would be a significantly less worse president than Trump. To be reluctant to risk actions that might lead to direct military confrontation with Russia is one thing. To faithfully parrot Russian propaganda is another, revealing a mix of ignorance, cynicism, demagoguery, and moral hollowness that should disqualify DeSantis from holding high office.

Ukraine, Russia, and the West

Headline: “Ukraine short of skilled troops and munitions as losses and pessimism grows.” It’s so sad to read this. Russia has three times the population of Ukraine and is pummeling Ukraine. How can Ukraine win a protracted war of attrition, even with help from the West? I read that Ukraine has a terrible shortage of some type of ammunition that could be supplied by Switzerland, but the law of that historically neutral country doesn’t allow them to supply it. How is it that NATO countries, led by the U.S., could be dependent on Switzerland, of all places? Can’t the West save Ukraine? Ancient enemies — greed and indifference — seem to be doing us in.

Pence

Headline: “Pence says ‘history will hold Donald Trump accountable’for Jan. 6th.” Yes indeed, but I hope that the Criminal Justice System holds Trump accountable before history gets around to it. History may be slower acting, but at least it will be thorough. I’m sure it will hold Pence accountable for his years of faithful sycophancy to Trump, his countless sanctimonious utterances, and for refusing to testify to the Congressional Select Committee and resisting the subpoena issued to him by a Federal Grand Jury, in each case investigating the same Jan 6th insurrection he refers to in his latest oracular pronouncement.

Book Recommendation

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Jacques Barzun’s 800-hundred-page survey titled From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the present; 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (2000). This book is as continually engaging as any novel I’ve ever read. It fills a huge number of gaps in my knowledge of these five centuries and illuminates the lives of many important figures who had been no more than names or names plus a few facts, conceptions, and misconceptions in my mind. It’s replete with insights and thought-provoking observations by the author. It’s given me a sense of the roiling progressions and reverberations of history that I never had before. I’ll have more to say about it when I finish reading it.

Abolish “Conservatism”

I mean abolish the word, not the phenomenon it once stood for. As Jennifer Rubin has pointed out, people who are election deniers, promote xenophobia and racism, and advocate nullifying the anti-Establishment Clause of the Constitution — and she might have added, threaten to cause the United States to default on its debts and fail to condemn instigators of an insurrection that threatened to end American democracy — are routinely called conservatives though they are clearly not. The word has lost its meaning; it would be best to abolish it.

2023 Battle Lines

Apart from hostilities involving the Republicans’ war against truth — for example, a majority of Republican members of Congress refused to condemn Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential was stolen — the battle lines between the two parties have formed on familiar terrain. President Biden’s new budget proposal calls for increased expenditures on social programs and on other initiatives. These would be financed largely by increased taxes on large corporations and on the rich and especially the super rich. Republicans oppose increasing expenditures and raising taxes; they advocate reducing expenditures on social programs as a way to strengthen the nation’s fiscal health. Tensions arising out of these opposing positions are certain to rise as summer approaches because of the threat by Republicans to cause the United States to default on its obligations unless the Democrats accede to their demands.

DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is the most likely alternative to Trump for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination. Most Republicans want to “move on” from Trump, and a large majority of Americans realize that Trump is grossly unfit to hold public office. Fox News has tilted its propagandizing to favor DeSantis over Trump. By the time the election approaches, Trump is likely to be under indictment in one or more jurisdictions. My guess is that the rest of the field will fade out and that Republicans will settle on DeSantis as the Party’s best bet. Republican voters have proven that DeSantis’s deep deficiencies of character and competence are no bar to their voting for him.

China Policy

Washington Post opinion writer Max Boot had an interesting and important column the other day. It was titled “The Perils of Bipartisanship.” In these polarized times, unity of Republicans and Democrats with regard to a major policy issue would normally be something to celebrate, but the enthusiasm of leaders of both parties for being “tough on China” reminded Boot of the overwhelming enthusiasm of most leaders of both parties for initiating the Vietnam War and the 2002 Iraq War, which in each case led to catastrophic results. Charging ahead on a track that could lead to war with China poses far greater risks. China’s behavior and policies constitute a grave threat to American interests. Responding to it successfully will require a high ratio of wisdom to bombast.

Trump and the Media

I wouldn’t normally cite Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin two days in a row, but she so often nails it that I’m prompted to do so. The problem she identifies — documenting it with quotations — is that even the most highly regarded news organizations characterize Trump’s incoherent, corrosive, wildly irresponsible, divorced-from-reality utterances as if they were normal political rhetoric instead of the ravings of a dangerous madman. It’s not enough to say that a naked emperor might perhaps have dressed somewhat more appropriately.

Voting Rights of Former Felons

In a column yesterday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin applauded Minnesota’s restoration of the right to vote for felons who have served their terms. A majority of people in this cohort are among the downtrodden and oppressed. The downtrodden and oppressed tend to vote Democratic. Most Republican politicians favor suppressing voting rights of people who tend to vote Democratic.

It’s bad policy to deny voting rights to former felons. They have “paid their debt to society.” It’s grossly unfair to perpetuate their punishment in this fashion. Society should do whatever is possible to help and guide these people to become responsible citizens for the rest of their lives. Exercising the right to vote is a privilege and a duty of responsible citizenship. Denying voting rights to former felons after they’ve served their terms amounts to telling them that they will never be full citizens again: forget about trying. It’s a cruel, stupid, and counter-productive policy.

Snowpack

Nice reading about and looking at pictures of all the snow that’s fallen this winter. California has been given a reprieve from apocalyptic drought. In southwest Colorado snow pack is well above average. With a little luck we’ll have a smoke-free summer, the mountains and ridges will look sharp and clear, and what it would be nice if it were normal will seem like a special treat.

Nihilism

Nihilism — what one might think would be a rare pathology — is flourishing in the United States, evidenced by the wanton abdication from moral responsibility of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the histrionics of self-promoting demagogues-in-training like Tucker Carlson, Ron DeSantis, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the cynical investigations and faux-serious diversions of Republican-run House committees featuring miscreants like Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan.

I’m in New Orleans this weekend for my grandson’s wedding. I checked my altimeter during my taxi ride in from the airport. Elevation was –2 feet. On a street corner in the French Quarter a cheerful ensemble was playing dixieland. The weather’s in tune too. This in one of several towns in the U.S. that are sui generis — nothing like them. Others that qualify: Aspen and Key West. I’m sure there are others. There are a lot of places I haven’t been to.

I’m skimping on reading the news this morning, but an opinion headline in the Washington Post caught my eye: “Washington has succumbed to dangerous groupthink oon China.” I’ll read it later.

The Multiplier Effect of Advanced A.I.

A venerable saying concerning computers is:
GARBAGE IN / GARBAGE OUT

In the case of future A.I., it may become
GARBAGE IN / GARBAGE TO THE NTH POWER OUT

Professor Reich’s ChatGPT Has Got It Right

Professor Robert Reich is a strong progressive voice and has command of a tremendous range of statistics that support his recommendations. The other day he posted a statement drafted by his ChatGPT. This artificially intelligent device outperformed most politicians in suggesting that a universal basic income (UBI) — ensuring that everyone has enough income to provide their basic needs — might be good public policy. It’s a good guess that ChatGPT attended some of professor Reich’s classes. If so, it proved to be a good student.

People who oppose a UBI, including, I suspect, just about every Republican, say that such a policy would allow some people who are not disabled to sit around and take a handout. This is a faulty argument: Anyone who has the capacity to be a productive member of society would be intolerably bored sitting around and would want to make more money than UBI income provides.

A Happy Convergence of Two Trends?

Headline: “China trying to increase its birthrate.” A couple of dozen years ago, China tried to limit births to one per family. They thought the country was getting too crowded. Now they are doing the opposite —- trying to increase their population. That’s because, like in many advanced countries, birthrates have been declining and, as people have been living longer, the population of retired people has been increasing. Some of the biggest countries were headed toward a situation where there wouldn’t be enough working-age people to provide the goods and services needed by retired people.

The Chinese aren’t counting on it, but it appears that A.I. will increase productivity so much that many fewer working-age people will be needed to take care of the retired people. We may reach the point where A.I. can take not only take care of the retired people but also subsidize the working-age people, so they won’t have to work as much to earn a living wage. That would be nice, but it might require a higher degree of rationality on the part of people than has generally been exhibited thus far.

Decadence

News Story: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of surveillance footage taken during the U.S. Capitol attack. Carlson is a cynical, self-serving, right-wing conspiracy theory-promoting propagandist. McCarthy wasn’t instantly removed from his position of Speakership for perpetrating this outrage because it was sanctioned by the MAGA-cult right-wing extremists who control the House of Representatives.

I’m reading From Dawn to Decadence, the 800-page cultural history of the West from 1500 – 2000 by the renowned historian Jacques Barzun. The title suggests that by the end of the twentieth century the West was in a state of decadence. Barzun says that an indication of decadence is when futility and the absurd have become normal. I wonder how he would characterize the state of the West as we’re approaching the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century: extreme decadence, maybe?

Financing Social Security and Medicare, continued

Although the more big earners make, the smaller the percentage of their earnings they are liable for in payroll taxes, defenders of this system argue that once they reach retirement age, the social security payments they receive are capped — limited by how much they paid in. True, but an inequity that is only compensated for, on average, decades later is still an inequity. Moreover, removing the cap on the payroll tax would be a sensible step toward reversing the trend toward regressive tax and tax break policies that have produced the present state of gross and corrosive income and wealth inequality, and, unlike many proposals for instituting more progressive tax measures, would be immune from clever tax avoidance schemes.

Financing Social Security and Medicare

Deficit hawks are right in pointing to how funding Social Security and Medicare payments will become untenable unless remedial steps are taken. Either payout formulas have to be constricted or additional revenues have to be generated. Republican sentiment seems to favor raising to 70 the age when payouts begin. Most Democrats oppose restrictions on payouts.

Some politically brave souls have pointed out that there’s an obvious solution to the problem: Eliminate the $160,000 cut-off on payroll taxes. It’s grossly inequitable that, under the present system, people who make $50,000 a year, or $150,000 a year, pay a tax that is a much great percentage of their earnings than that paid by people making $500,000 a year, or $5,000,000 a year. Tomorrow I’ll offer my thoughts on why this gross inequity has been perpetuated.

Bad People in Positions of Power

One would think that the vast majority of people and nations in the world would be revolted by Russia’s unprovoked and abhorrent war against Ukraine and would be united in condemnation of Putin and resolute in bringing as much pressure against Russia as possible to bring about a just outcome to this ongoing monstrous crime. The NATO countries have to a large extent risen to the occasion, but it is dismaying how many countries see the war only in terms of how they can exploit it to their own advantage: not only countries run by monstrous autocrats –– notably China, North Korea, and Iran — but also, India, South Africa, and other Middle Eastern and African countries. Isolationist sentiment is on the rise in the United States, as well. Hordes of people throughout the world appear to be tolerant of Putin’s autocratic brutalist way of being. These are bad people, and a dismaying number of them are in positions of power.

Further Thoughts on Russia’s War against Ukraine

Appeasement of Putin should not be an option, nor should a falling off of our unflagging support for Ukraine. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continually search for avenues to peace. In an insightful Washington Post op-ed yesterday, Harvard professor of Government Graham Allison quoted John F. Kennedy’s remark: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.”

No course of action can eliminate risk. We still have to thread the needle. What we must not do is slack off or shrink from this epochal struggle between the forces of tyranny and those of liberal democracy.

Further Thoughts on the Russian War on Ukraine

Yesterday I listened to a podcast of Sam Harris’s illuminating interview with Yale historian Timothy Snyder, an expert on Ukraine and Russia. Snyder left no doubt in my mind that the West must be unflagging in support of Ukraine.Those who would appease Putin need to understand that acquiescing to nuclear extortion wouldn’t avert the danger of nuclear devastation: it would increase it.

The Gathering Storm

This was the title of Volume I of Winston Churchill’s History of World War II. There are indications that a no less intense storm is gathering now. Biden made a bold and brave visit to Kiev over the weekend and is making a speech in Poland today. The Chinese are threatening to supply arms to Russia. Putin announced that Russia is pulling out of the nuclear treaty. An ominous face-off seems to be forming between the autocratic regimes controlling Russia, Iran, China and North Korea on one side, and the NATO countries and their counterparts among the democracies on the Pacific Rim on the other. Meanwhile, as was the case in the years preceding Pearl Harbor, isolationist sentiment is rising in the U. S. I’m reminded of John F. Kennedy’s principle: “Never negotiate out of fear, but never to negotiate.” I would suggest, as a corollary, “Never stop searching for ways to peace, but know that appeasement is not one of them.

This Winter a Heaviness Hangs in the Air, continued

In my litany of worrisome phenomena yesterday, I neglected Republicans’ threat to refuse to raise the debt ceiling if their demands aren’t met. They’ve done this before and backed off. Times change, however, and the House is now controlled by wanton extremists. Speaker Kevin McCarthy has subordinated himself to knaves and fools in order to cling to his title. Democrats have signaled that they will not be extorted. But Republicans, being of nihilistic bent, will probably follow through on their threat, proving that they are not bluffing, whereupon President Biden, and the Treasury Department, following his directions, will likely borrow more money to meet the government’s obligations, citing the language of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned.” The obligations that must be paid were in every case previously authorized by Congress. The debt ceiling is an entirely post facto construction. The matter may reach the Supreme Court, which is dominated by right-wing ideologues. By then, the foundations of world economic order will be showing cracks and strains, and may already be in the process of crumbling.

This Winter a Heaviness Hangs in the Air

The pandemic seems to be all but over. The economy isn’t spinning out of control. President Biden has kept a steady hand on the helm. But monstrous problems threaten to overwhelm us. Putin’s maniacal attempt to conquer Ukraine threatens not just the survival of that country, but all humanity. The same may be said for the rise of authoritarianism and erosion of democratic institutions throughout the world. A sign of the times is this past week’s revelation that Fox News media icons knowingly spread falsehoods imperiling the survival of American democracy in order to maintain their viewer ratings. The seeming helplessness of our species to combat climate change, evidenced by a water crisis that will require water rationing western states, the demonstrated corrosive effect of social media, the evidence that greed and cynicism are ascendant, and the malignant effects of gross income and wealth inequality are all deeply disturbing. If we think of humanity as if it were a single person who had been submitted to a medical exam, multiple malignancies would have been found. Ones in Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are particularly worrisome, appearing more likely to metastasize than be contained.

Russia’s War Against Ukraine

Next Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has been aptly said that the West must thread the needle in its response to Putin’s war of aggression. We must continue to give Ukraine the military, economic, humanitarian, and moral support they need to keep their country from being overwhelmed by Russian forces; Putin must be made to understand that he cannot succeed in conquering Ukraine. But because Putin has the capability of escalating the war by using nuclear weapons — for example wiping out Kiev with a single bomb or cluster of bombs –- he must be given concessions that will allow him to claim that Ukraine has been cleansed of fascists, that Russians in the Ukraine will be protected from discrimination; that all economic sanctions against Russia have been removed, and that peace, security, and dignity for Russia are now assured for generations to come. I think it would be prudent to be generous in making concessions to Putin in order bring this savage conflict to an end and lower the risk of a direct conflict between NATO nations and Russia, provided that any concessions the West makes must be accompanied by NATO’s ironclad commitment to defend Ukraine in the event of renewed Russian aggression, and this must be backed up by NATO’s clear demonstration of readiness to act.

Among the Troubles We’re In

How’s 2023 going? The condition of the patient (the U.S.A.) is guarded. The Treasury has warned us that unless Congress authorizes a rise in the debt ceiling, the United States will default on its obligations this summer, which would please dictators hostile to our country by causing economic and political chaos and imperiling our national security. Republicans think that might not be too big a price to pay in order to teach Democrats an unintelligible lesson.
The nation’s fiscal plight was greatly exacerbated by the Trump tax cuts and tax breaks for the rich and especially for the super rich, people like the fellow in East Hampton, New York, who, the local newspaper reports this week, feels deprived because the house he bought for $57 million isn’t directly on the ocean, a flaw he’s attempting to remedy by applying for a permit to build an elevated walkway through the dunes. I wonder if the town will permit this desecration of public lands, sculpted by the winds, to spare him what ordinary rich people have to endure — walking, biking, or driving, sometimes hundred of yards, to get to the beach. Wealth inequality is out of control, which is one of the troubles we’re in.

Daily Blog Resumes

I’m happy to be resuming my daily blog today. For a long time I’ve been impressed by how some people I know keep a journal and make regular entries. It’s a practice that establishes a historical record and helps one organize one’s thoughts: A vague notion that’s floating around in your mind may become more coherent when you put it in writing. I’m posting a daily blog partly to sharpen my thinking and partly with the hope that readers will find some of my observations to be informative.

Since I last wrote in this space, I’ve slightly revised my essay “The View from Ninety,” which can be accessed from the home page of this webiste. As is appropriate, I’ve retitled it “The View from Ninety-Two.”

In the months ahead, I’ll probably be commenting most often on political developments if only because they are having such an outsized impact on our lives, but I hope to intersperse these pages more frequently than I have in the past with observations on other topics, including personal experiences and books I’m reading.

Website New Feature / Suspension of Daily Blog until February 16th

A few months ago, I completed my new short novel, Continuance: A Tale of Two Planets, and submitted it to my literary agent. She assigned it to a reader to evaluate it. The reader had imaginative suggestions for how it should be reshaped before being offered to publishers. There was no chance of that happening, however — we were on different wavelengths — so, after further revision, I decided to feature it on the home page of my website, edwardpackard.com, offer free downloading for personal use, and see what others think of it. I think it’s well worth reading, but who am I to judge? As the author, I’m disqualified.

Website New Feature / Daily Blog Taking a Break

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Deleted because updated on January 20th

. Do We Live in a Plutocracy?

A progressive tax policy is one in which the more income you have, the higher the rate (after what amount to subsidies and loopholes) at which it’s taxed. In a progressive society, workers tend be paid increasingly higher wages and salaries in real dollars (i.e. adjusted for inflation) as productivity rises. According to the economist Clara Mattei, the medium male worker in America earns less in real dollars than in 1973, and the richest 400 families pay an overall tax rate lower than that paid by any other income group. By these measures, we live in a regressive society, one that it would be apt to call a plutocracy.

The State of the House

Headline to Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post column yesterday: “There are no moderate House Republicans.” None? Really? That’s right. Remember that the two notably honorable and decent Republican members of the House, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinsinger, were shunned by the Party and are no longer in office.

Even the eighteen Republicans from Congressional districts won by Biden in 2020 — politicians who had good reason to take moderate positions — voted fifteen times to make Kevin McCarthy, an election denier, the Speaker of the House, and voted for rules enabling right-wing extremists to extort concessions from Democrats to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debts. 
It would take only a half dozen decent-minded moderate Republicans to work out productive compromises with the Democrats in this Congressional term. Apparently, there isn’’t even one.

My Encounter with the Bible

I don’t remember what prompted me, but I had an impulse to look up the source of the phrase “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.” I soon learned that the phrase comes from a verse in The Gospel According to Saint Luke; I also learned how many Bibles there are — dozens, though I did’t count them. The most famous one may be the King James Bible, which is distinguished by the beauty of its prose. It renders the phrase that had come to my mind: “on earth peace, good will toward men.” If the authors had been as gender-sensitive as we are now, the phrase would probably have been rendered: “on earth peace, good will toward all.”

Next I looked at the New American Standard Bible, which sounds as if it’s more commonly used these days. It renders the phrase: “on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.” I noticed that a lot of other Bibles follow this line. It’s not beautiful prose, and it suggests that God doesn’t favor a lot of people and doesn’t care whether they have peace or not. I don’t like it. It’s not a sentiment that induces peace on earth, good will toward all.

The Status of Our Two-Party System

I wish everyone in America could read Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post column yesterday. It was titled: “Jeffries governs in poetry, Biden in grace — and the GOP in thuggishness.” The facts back up the shocking contrasts she drew, in the process quoting from a speech delivered by the House Democratic Minority Leader, Hakeem Jeffries:

We will never compromise our principles. House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy. Benevolence over bigotry. The Constitution over the cult. Democracy over demagogues. Economic opportunity over extremism. Freedom over fascism. Governing over gaslighting. Hopefulness over hatred. Inclusion over isolation. Justice over judicial overreach. Knowledge over kangaroo courts. Liberty over limitation. Maturity over Mar-a-Lago. Normalcy over negativity. Opportunity over obstruction. People over politics. Quality-of-life issues over QAnon. Reason over racism. Substance over slander. Triumph over tyranny. Understanding over ugliness. Voting rights over voter suppression. Working families over the well connected. Xenial [hospitality] over xenophobia. ‘Yes, we can’ over ‘you can’t do it,’ and zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation.

The New Republican-Controlled House of Representatives

So today the election-denying, morally degraded, magical-thinking Republicans begin exercising control of the House of Representatives. They have no constructive agenda; they proclaim that the government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem; they’re already threatening to cause the United States to default on its obligations unless they get their way. They’ve announced that they will investigate the FBI, and that they will investigate the recently concluded House Select Committee’s investigation of the January 6, 2021, insurrection. Using their own matches and oily rags, they will manufacture a lot of smoke, then cry out, ”Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!” It’s not in doubt that they will harm our country and our democratic institutions. In the coming months we’ll find out how much.

Throughout 2023, Ukraine Should Remain in the Forefront of Our Minds

An opinion piece yesterday by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is headed: “Time is not on Ukraine’s Side.” By purporting to annex and by declaring that the four eastern provinces of Ukrainev are part of sacred Russian soil, Putin closed off any chance of a negotiated settlement in which Ukraine would cede any territory to Russia: Putin may take some breaks to amass more armaments or build up forces, but he can’t quit, because if he did, it would amount to an admission that attacking Ukraine was a terrible and unforgivable mistake. His strategy is to wear Ukraine down and continue to try to conquer Ukraine, and if he can’t conquer it, to reduce its citizenry to desolation and utter misery.

After writing the above, I noticed a headline in Politico this morning: “Moscow to mobilize 500,000 new conscripts, Kyiv military intelligence says.” Time is not on Ukraine’s side, because with each month that passes, regardless of who holds what territory, Ukraine will be more battered and more of its citizens will be maimed or killed. I agree with Rice and Gates: As long as Ukrainians want to defend their country, the United States should assist them as much as it takes, and as long as it takes, in my opinion, until Putin realizes that time is not on his side.

The Power of the Mob

I learned from watching Chris Hayes’s news show last evening that one of the concessions Kevin McCarthy had to make to the extreme right-wing, pro-authoritarian Republican nihilists to get the votes he needed to become Speaker of the House was that he would appoint three of them to the House Rules Committee, apparently giving them the power to block any piece of legislation, presumably including legislation to raise the debt ceiling and prevent the Government from defaulting on its obligations. It looks like ugly times lie ahead.

The Impasse in Selecting the Speaker of the House

Legislation is impossible without the assent of the House of Representatives. Republicans narrowly control the House. A small minority of right-wing, extremist. pro-authoritarian nihilists control Republican Representatives. Therefore, legislation is not possible without the assent of right-wing extremist, pro-authoritarian nihilists. The only hope – a faint one – may be that some relatively pragmatic and sensible Republicans will make a deal with the Democrats as to selection of the Speaker of the House. This individual would most likely be a relatively sane and honorable Republican.

Architects of Chaos

Right-wing Republican extremists are trying to control the House of Representatives by extorting concessions and fealty from Representative Kevin McCarthy as the price he must pay in exchange for their votes, which he needs if he is to be elected Speaker of the House. The members of this gang, who I understand refer to themselves as the Freedom Caucus, have no legislative agenda. They have no interest in the common good. Their goals are power and prominence, and they have no scruples as to how they get it. Our country would be much better off if could be soundly defeated and marginalized.

The Wealth / Power Cycle

Robert Reich keeps hammering away on the appalling degree of wealth and income inequality in this country. In his latest Facebook post, he notes that, “Three multibillionaires now own more wealth than the bottom half of America — 160 million Americans,” and adds, “Don’t tell us we can’t afford a wealth tax on the super-rich.”

The trouble is that economic power translates into political power; great economic power translates into great political power; great political power tilts the playing field in favor of those who wield it, further increasing their wealth, giving them more political power, enabling them to tilt the playing field even more, and so it proceeds. Any idea how to reverse this trend, Mr. Reich?

Ukraine, Lincoln, and Biden

Reading And There Was Light, Jon Meacham’s wonderful new biography of Lincoln, I’ve been struck by the similarity of the pressures on Lincoln and the dilemmas he faced in formulating and pursuing a just and realistic strategy during the Civll War and those on Biden in leading the West’s assistance to Ukraine in repelling Russia’s invasion of that country. Lincoln wanted to eliminate slavery, but slavery could not be eliminated unless the Union was preserved intact, and the Union could not be preserved intact if Lincoln didn’t act pragmatically to retain the allegiance of border states and conciliatory constituencies in the North. Similarly, Biden wants to help Ukraine repel Russian invaders, but no less fervently wants to avoid any escalation of the war that poses a serious risk of a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO forces. It’s fascinating to trace the evolution of Lincoln’s strategy as the Civil War unfolded. Biden seems to be guided by the same philosophy.

Ukraine / Strategy

In a New York Times guest opinion essay yesterday, Nigel Gould-Davies, an expert on strategic dealing with Russia, made some suggestions. His basic idea is that the West needs to persuade Putin that withdrawing his forces from Ukraine is less perilous than fighting. How can this be accomplished? Gould-Davies’s main argument is that “the West should demonstrate readiness to mobilize, and quickly, its huge economic superiority to enable Ukraine to defeat Russia and to impose further severe sanctions.” This is too vague and temporizing be helpful. The West needs to mobilize its “huge economic superiority” now.

Happy New Year to All!

What about resolutions to do better in 2023? Some deride them. Others caution that they should not be overly ambitious. Others recommend being sparing as to how many you adopt. Perhaps the dominant admonition is to only make resolutions that you have a realistic hope of keeepiing. My thought this year is to keep it simple. I resolve to follow the advice of a bumper sticker I saw last year: “Just be nice.”

Santos and Societal Norms

The spectacle of moral degradation endemic among Republican politicians was dramatized this week when George Santos, the newly elected Republican Congressman from New York, apologized for “embellishing” his resumé. Since his resumé was in large measure a fabrication, he lied yet again in saying he had embellished it, a phrase that implies that his representations were substantially truthful. It now appears that he may be prosecuted for defrauding the voters of his Congressional district. That would be healthy development. It’s a sign that society is crumbling when rank dishonesty is shrugged off.

The Moon and the Telescope

Having commented a few days ago on the shortcomings of the Washington Post article titled “22 good things that happened this year,” it would be irresponsible for me to leave this topic without noting that one of them was titled “We’re Going to the Moon Again,” which, by the way, is not something that happened this year, because it didn’t. Moreover, going to the moon is not what it once was, which is why we abandoned this practice some decades ago.

When, half a century ago, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, he said “One small step for {a} man, one giant leap for mankind.” It would be apt for the first astronaut to walk on the moon in this century to say, “One great leap for a man; one small step for mankind.”

What really was another great leap for mankind this year was the successful deployment of the Webb telescope, which is now in position a million miles from Earth and exceeding expectations in uncovering information about the universe and our galaxy that would otherwise have remained beyond our ken. The complexity and capability of the Webb telescope is stunning, as was the overcoming of the challenges to deploying it and rendering fully operational. Its scientific significance far exceeds whatever may be achieved by going to the moon again.

Wealth / Income Inequality

The tone of this country would be far more agreeable if the United States had a much more progressive tax and subsidy system. Robert Reich is a master at demonstrating with simple telling statistics that our society is grossly inegalitarian. Example: “The richest 1% of Americans hold more wealth than the least well-off 290 million Americans”.

Santos and His Fellows

George Santos, a newly elected Republican Congressman from New York, has admitted that virtually his entire life story, including his claims of education, experience, and ethnicity, was a fabrication. He defrauded everyone in his district who voted for him, believing his claims. His behavior may have violated criminal law. He should not be seated in Congress, and, if seated, he should be expelled. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives will almost certainly allow him to stay. They know that Santos will faithfully do what the Party leadership tells him to do, if only to save his own skin. Besides, it would be hypocritical for Republicans to expel Santos for moral depravity. By voting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the majority of Republican representatives have proved themselves to be no less morally depraved than Santos.

The American Struggle

I’ve been reading Jon Meacham’s great new book, And There Was Light; Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle. During the winter of 1861, the Civil War had all but begun. There was a concerted movement to prevent Lincoln from being inaugurated and well-founded fears that he would be assassinated or that insurrectionists would seize the Capitol and prevent the counting of electoral votes. Meacham noted, “Lincoln saw democracy as an essential good; his foes saw it as a threat to the aristocracy of power.” Now, more than a century and a half later, the American struggle continues. Its intensity has receded from fever pitch, but the springs that power it are tightly coiled.

2022: The Good, the Bad, and the Trivial

Yesterday, looking for a Christmas bonus of joy, I clicked on a Washington Post article titled “22 good things that happened this year.” The first two were satisfying — “Ukraine still stands” and “American voters resist extreme candidates,” referring to ones who were election deniers or blatantly favor authoritarian rule. Most of the other items on the list were of considerably less import, like #9, “Tik Tok brought us ‘butter boards.’” I thought, Scratching the bottom of the barrel of good things already? And I’d just read Michael Moore’s observation that 121 members of the new Congress voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election. I hope the Post will find more substantial good things for their list next year.

Merry Christmas to All

The key word in yesterday’s quote quote from Santa is “all.” And it’s not just Santa who is non-exclusive. Tiny Tim himself said, “God bless us, every one.” Really?” you might ask, “including even people like Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Greene? Yes, and even the ogre of Mar-a-Lago, because they are sentient members of the human family and and we want something better for them as well as something better from them. Their minds are warped, but there is always hope for redemption, for an epiphany. They are to be relentlessly opposed, but no more to be hated than an earthquake or a typhoon.

As Santa first said as he drove away on his sleigh, oh so many years ago, and faithfully repeats every year — “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

DeSantis

Trump is in a fade. Republicans need to unite behind a strong alternative candidate. Florida governor Ron DeSantis is the leading aspirant, but DeSantis is a terrible human being. His latest moral crime — an attempt to attract conspiracy theorists and crazed MAGA cult voters generally — is to demand a grand jury investigation of “criminal or wrongful activity in Florida” involving the “development, promotion and distribution of coronavirus vaccines,” even though the striking success of vaccines in reducing severe illness and deaths is a matter of public record. The best candidate Republicans could put up would be Liz Cheney. Unfortunately, they have in effect expelled her from the Party.

Zelensky

It was stirring watching President Zelensky addressing Congress last evening. Even if you believe in “America First,” you should understand that providing critically needed military and economic aid to enable Ukraine to defend itself is both morally and strategically the right thing to do. In order to deny Russia any basis for claiming that the U.S. has escalated the war, we will refrain from risking conflict between U.S. and Russian forces and from helping Ukraine launch attacks on Russian territory. But we must give Ukraine what it takes for as long as it takes
to defend itself on its own soil.

Biggest Takeaways as 2022 Nears Its End:

#4. As if the world didn’t have enough troubles, Vladimir Putin caused Russia to invade and try to conquer Ukraine. Putin expected a quick victory. Instead, with the help of Western countries and others, Ukrainians courageously fought back and stalled the advance. Putin, a serial mass murderer, appears to be bent on destroying Ukraine, if he can’t conquer it. The West must not falter in its support for Ukraine and in efforts to end the war in a way that will discourage Putin from further aggression.

Biggest Takeaways as 2022 Nears Its End:

#3. Four criminal referrals for Trump from the House Select Committee investigating the January 2020 insurrection:

Mulitple indictments of Trump are all but certain. Republicans will likely dump him in 2024 in favor of a more palatable alternative, someone to whom MAGA cult members would be willing to transfer their allegiance. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been acting as much like Trump as he can to earn their respect.

Biggest Takeaways as 2022 Nears Its End

#2. Although Democrats maintained the slimmest of holds on the Senate, they couldn’t stop Republicans from taking control of the House. Normally, this wouldn’t be a catastrophe. In the present circumstances, it can’t be seen as anything else. Michael Moore reports that the new Congress will included 188 members of the House of Representatives and ten U.S. senators who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election, thereby demonstrating that they would be happy to convert American democracy to authoritarian rule.

Biggest Takeaways as 2022 Nears Its End

#1. The Supreme Court has fallen under the control of right-wing ideologues. What had once been America’s most respected institution can no longer be trusted. The solution: set term limits, expand the court, and establish ethics rules. None of these can be accomplished unless and until Democrats retake control of Congress. The Supreme Court may play a role in seeing that this never happens.

Money, Power, Consequences

Lord Acton, a 19th century British historian, said memorably: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This may not be completely true, but there’s a great deal of truth to it. Money is power, and, like a potentially dangerous drug, when it is taken in excessive amounts (like the hundred-billion-dollar-plus dose ingested by Elon Musk) can produce bizarre pathologies, which, in Mr. Musk’s case, include exhibitionist megalomania. What a spectacle. What fame. What an impressive display of importance. What is the effect of it all? In a Washington Post column yesterday, Jennifer Rubin observed, “So long as we value wealth and power over virtue, we’re in for a world of hurt.”

Ukraine

Having failed to conquer and occupy Ukraine, Putin is following a strategy of trying to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure and economy and so demoralizing all the people he hasn’t been able to maim and kill so they’ll want to give up, and even if they won’t, at least they will be in a maximum state of misery and struggling simply to survive. Ukraine not only needs more military help from the West, it needs more economic help if it is to survive. NATO countries, led by the U.S., should step up their aid on all fronts, They can afford it. Their collective GDP is vastly greater than Russia’s.

This is a moral obligation we have, and it’s also in our own strategic interest. I read that Ukraine will need two billion dollars a month more next year to survive economically. That would add up to twenty-four billion dollars for 2023, a lot less than Elon Musk just paid for Twitter, less than Elon Musk would have already paid to the United States under a just and equitable system of taxation.

Covid and Vaccines

On his MSNBC show last evening, Chris Hayes interviewed infection diseases expert Dr. Peter Hotez. Those who didn’t already know it learned:

Vaccines have been highly effective. Those propagandizing vaccine denial during the pandemic have acted as serial killers, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths by spreading disinformation.

Possibly more deadly and contagious strains of virus are brewing. New waves of pandemic are likely. If, as is all but certain, malevolent, opportunistic, cynical politicians and media figures continue to spread disinformation, undermine public health measures, and defame honorable experts, they will cause many hundreds of thousands more people to die.

Reforming The Electoral Count Act

Only a few days left for the lame duck session of Congress to enact critical legislation that will have no chance of passage after a Republican-controlled House, riddled with pro-coup members, takes control on January 3rd. The item on the agenda I’ll be watching most closely is reform of the Electoral Count Act, amendment of which could save our country from falling under authoritarian rule after the 2024 presidential election.

Musk

Somebody someday may publish a penetrating study of Elon Musk, the astonishingly rich genius who has a record of amazing accomplishments, but appears to be suffering from atrophy of the region of his brain responsible for exercising judgment. Recently, he’s been clutching nuggets of disinformation as if they were pure gold, even asserting that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, who has a long record of honorable service to the country, should be criminally prosecuted. In her book Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity, Harvard philosopher Christine Korsgaard notes that people who have lack moral integrity “are nothing but a heap of impulses.” Irrational impulses seem to be propelling Mr. Musk, rather than the celebrated reasoning powers of his brain.

Time Is Running Out for the Lame Duck Congress

Only about half a dozen working days are left before a new Congressional term begins and the Republicans take over the House of Representatives. Apparently there’s not enough time left to raise the debt ceiling sufficiently to prevent the Republican-controlled House from trying to extort outrageous concessions from Democratic lawmakers by threatening to cause the U.S. to default on its obligations. There’s still be a chance that the deeply flawed Electoral Count Act can be amended so as to significantly lower the risk that Republicans could overturn the 2024 presidential election.

Two Ways of Looking at Your Life

Some decades ago, it occurred to me that my life was like a novel, one in which I was the conspicuously flawed protagonist. A few years ago, I came across a book by the distinguished philosopher Galen Strawson with the intriguing title, Things That Bother Me. It turned out that one of the things that bothers Strawson is that many people think of their lives as a narrative — just what I’d been doing!

Strawson says that this is not a good way to look at your life. He gives reasons I won’t get into here and concludes that it’s best to think of your life as non-narrative and of your self as being transient — as not having continuity. Thus, Strawon says that he has “no sense of my life as a narrative. . . Nor do I have any great or special interest in my past. . . Nor do I have a great deal of concern for my future.” The reason for this seems to be that although Strawson knows that he is the same human being throughout his life, what happened a ways back in the past is something that happened to an earlier self, and that even though that earlier self was the same human being known as Strawson, what is meaningful is the person he is now. I could see the merit in this. I was unhappy with my earlier self. Like Strawson, I decided to disassociate myself from him (it?). I decided that it’s my present self that’s important. You can’t change the past, but you can change the present. I concentrate on trying to be the best new self I can be every day.

Journalism: Choosing the Most Newsworthy Headline

Headline: “Oil and Gas Companies Doing Little To Address Climate Change.” This headline was apparently deemed more newsworthy than “Foxes Doing Little To Improve the Security of Chicken Coops.”

Sinema

News Item: “Senator Krysten Sinema, of Arizona, changes her party affiliation from Democratic to Independent.” Let’s hope this doesn’t mean much. Senator Sanders, of Vermont, and Senator King, of Maine, have long been Independents, but have reliably voted with the Democratic caucus. Senator Sinema exhibited independence while she was a Democrat. She’s been a loose cannon in the Senate, because she’s really neither Democratic nor an Independent. She’s a member of the Krysten Sinema party, just as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who, as of this writing is still a member of the Democratic party, would more aptly be said to be a member of the Joe Manchin party. Democratic control of the Senate seems as tenuous as ever.

The Supreme Court and American Democracy

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument as to whether a state legislature has authority to set election rules, including flagrantly partisan gerrymandering of voting districts, without regard to the state’s constitution or subject to review by the state’s courts. The Supreme Court has already declined to strike down partisan gerrymandering, so a ruling ascribing such power to state legislatures would be tantamount to allowing a dominant political party to cement permanent control over a state’s government through gerrymandering and other election rules preferential to that party, thereby stripping away a fundamental principle of our democracy. Because the Supreme Court is controlled by right-wing ideologues who have demonstrated their willingness to interpret the Constitution in a way that reflects their deep-seated preferences, there’s a chance that this is what will happen. Democracy came out fighting and looked good after the last round of elections, but we can’t be sure that the Supreme Court won’t land a punch that will knock it back on the ropes.

Warnock Victory

Thank goodness, Senator Warnock won reelection, but given that Walker was such a stunningly unqualified candidate — a pawn advanced on the chess board by Trump — that he came close to winning is one of many indications that our country is still sick.

Ukraine Peace Talks — Security Guarantees?

President Macron, of France, recently said that one thing that would be negotiable would be for the West (presumably NATO) to give security guarantees to Russia. 
President Zelensky, of Ukraine, criticized Macron for being willing to consider such a thing. I can see where Zelensky may be coming from in this reaction. But it’s possible that he’s protesting just for show. One of Putin’s many grossly outrageous lies has been that invading Ukraine was justified because Ukraine posed a security threat to Russia. Presumably, many Russians accepted this preposterous allegation as the truth. (It’s probably a good guess that as large a percentage of Russians have been duped by Putin as that of Americans who have been duped by Trump.) It would cost the Ukraine and NATO countries nothing to give Russia security guarantees in the course of negotiating a settlement pursuant to which Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be assured. It’s not bad policy to offer Putin meaningless concessions that he can brag about, claiming that they show that his war was worth it.

Ukraine, a Clarification

In my December 3rd blog I stated what I thought shouldn’t be negotiable in talks with Putin, and that ceding eastern provinces to Russia should be negotiable. Since then, I’ve learned that Putin says that he won’t enter into talks unless Ukraine and its allies first recognize his illegal and baseless claim that Russia has annexed four eastern provinces of Ukraine and Ukraine removes its armed forces from them. This demand is, of course, unacceptable. Ceding any Ukrainian territory to Russia is out of the question except as a quid pro quo for concessions on the part of Russia which, among other things and without relying on Putin’s word, will ensure the longterm security and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which would necessarily include a guarantee of protection by NATO forces.

DeSantis

A worry I’ve harbored is that before the 2024 presidential election, Republicans would dump Trump and nominate a smarter, younger, less crude, but no less ruthless and authoritarian-minded, candidate, most probably Ron DeSantis, who was just re-elected governor of Florida by a wide-margin. It was something of a relief for me to learn that the astute Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin considers DeSantis to be “plodding,” “uninteresting,” and “neither charismatic nor charming.” 

Ukraine

The esteemed journalist and thinker Robert Wright had a sensible op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday headed “Biden can help Zelensky, and Ukraine, by pushing for peace.” The damage Russia has inflicted on Ukraine has been beyond catastrophic. It will continue, together with increasing risk of escalation and expansion of the war, unless it’s stopped. President Zelensky and his compatriots have been magnificent, but a solution to ending the horror must be sought. From the standpoint of the Russian people, the toll on their country has been brutal. Putin has ample incentive for ending the war.

Talks may not be successful, and they are certain to be long-drawn-out, but it would be best to begin them soon. Wright didn’t speculate about what peace terms might eventually be acceptable to both to Russia and to Ukraine. I have felt for a long time that cessation of eastern provinces of Ukraine should be negotiable, but that the remaining territorial integrity and the longterm security of Ukraine as a sovereign nation should not be negotiable, and that any peace treaty must provide that, although Ukraine would agree not to join NATO, Russia would understand that if it invaded or attacked Ukraine again, NATO would defend Ukraine as if it were a member of NATO, including with troops on the ground and planes and drones in the air, and that venues on Russian soil from which attacks are launched would not be off limits. Whether a peace treaty is made or not, it’s critically important that NATO countries maintain conspicuous military superiority to Russia and work tirelessly to end dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Hope in Georgia

Predicting election outcomes is a perilous activity, but it looks to me like Senator Raphael Warnock will win the run-off election in Georgia Tuesday, and that the Trump-endorsed former football star Hershel Walker will drop out of politics and off the television screens. Given the magnitude and scope of Walker’s flaws, Warnock has been able to distinguish himself from his opponent with just two words: “competence” and “character.” If Warnock wins, giving the Democrats firmer control of the Senate than they’ve had for the past two years, it will end the mid-term elections on an upbeat note.

A Stirring Encounter with the Natural World

I had a great, very simple, three or four minute experience yesterday while walking up a trail that leads to a high ridge about ten miles north of our town. Much of the trail has a sweeping view over a river valley to the ridges beyond it. The great experience consisted simply of watching a bald eagle swooping in various directions over the valley, flying past me, banking, then going into a long glide traveling a great distance with astonishing speed without moving its wings.

Trump and Republican Leaders

I saw several reports on Trump’s dinner with a couple of notorious racist and anti-semitic hate-spewing characters. Among prominent Republicans, there was much criticism of the dinner, but little of Trump. It was the dinner’s fault. Get it? Republican leaders could have gotten rid of Trump long ago, but they are so morally degraded that, with few exceptions, they continue to treat him with kid gloves. Let’s hope there’s enough of a public awakening so that it’s not only generally understood that Trump is unfit to hold public office, but also those who hold back from denouncing him and his cult.

Twelve Days to Pass Critical Legislation

I learned yesterday that Congress will be in session for only twelve days before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and block constructive legislation for at least the next two years. Numerous commentators have itemized what’s critical to enact before this term of Congress ends:

lock in funds for supporting Ukraine;

lock in funds for supporting the Justice Department and the special counsel for conducting the criminal investigation of Trump’s mishandling of classified documents and his role in the January 6, 2021 insurrection;

reform the Electoral Reform Act to protect the integrity of the voting process in the 2024 presidential election;

prevent Republicans from allowing a default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling;

pass legislation to protect same-sex marriage.

Whether 2023 will be a happy year may turn on what Democrats can accomplish before the Christmas break.

Ukraine

Putin wasn’t able to conquer Ukraine the old-fashioned way, by rolling tanks into the capital and occupying all the real estate. Now he’s trying assuage his ego by depriving Ukrainians of water, heat, electricity, and safe shelter. He’s already proven that he’s not in the slightest bothered by how much suffering and death he’s causing, regardless of whether his victims are Ukrainian or Russian. Supporting Ukraine and trying to bring about lasting peace and security for that country must remain one of our highest priorities.

Looking Ahead

Now that we’ve completed giving thanks for our many blessings, it’s time to get back to lamenting all the problems facing our country and, more important, trying to do something about them. The lame duck session of Congress has a lot of work to accomplish in the next few weeks. Some of it, particularly reforming the Electoral Count Act, may be critical to preserving our democracy. It will be nearly impossible to pass constructive legislation once Republicans take control of the House in January.

The Authority of Guns

New York Times headline this morning (composed after examination of 700 armed protests): “At protests across America, guns are doing the talking.”

Open-carry laws are allowing protestors to brandish their weapons and demonstrate how they will prevail over their opponents, by force of arms, if necessary, despite what anyone else may think. The right to bear arms was sanctified in the Constitution because of the perceived need in some circumstances in the late 18th century for “a well-regulated militia.” Malevolent forces have taken us from there to here, and given the composition of the Supreme Court and the mindset of a critical number of those holding public office, there’s no escape from it in sight.

Self-Confidence

The Dalai Lama says that if you’re honest and warm-hearted, you will be self-confident. That surprised me when I first read it. I had thought that self-confidence came from being aware that you have superior skills, or from reflecting on your imagined impressive accomplishments, or from having having cultivated what you think is an imposing presence. I don’t know whether that’s the case, to some extent, but from my personal experience and observation, I’m convinced that the Dalai Lama is right.

Thanksgiving

I give thanks to the billions of people of good will in the world. It’s their example and their work, more than intellect, that differentiates humans from hyenas.

The Senate Runoff in Georgia

Just thirteen days until the runoff in the senate race in Georgia. The Democrats have already clinched control of the senate, but only because they are assured of Vice-President Harris’s tie-breaking vote. There are important areas, such as the composition and agenda of senate committees, in which the vice-president plays no role.

Hershel Walker, the Republican candidate, is emblematic of the moral degradation of the Republican Party. He was a terrific football player, and in that sense something of a hero, but he is conspicuously unqualified to be a United States senator. The Republican Party evidently thinks that Georgia voters don’t realize that proficiency at playing football is not the right test of whether someone would best serve their interests and those of the country in the senate. They haven’t announced publicly that they’re courting voters for whom they feel contempt.

My Checklist in Process

On November 12th I wrote in this space that I’d decided to make a checklist of what one should attend to prior to making a major decision. This would be similar to what airplane pilots go through when taking off and landing. I’ve now completed a draft, but I’m not ready to post it, because one of the items on it is: “Consider whether you should consult anyone beforehand.” I’ve decided that I should consult with a two or three astute people I know, asking for their comments. For that reason, posting my checklist here is probably a few weeks away. Moreover, this checklist is likely to be a work in progress for a long time. I’m not sure when, if ever, I can construct the definitive checklist for living, even to my satisfaction, much less for others. Still, I’m convinced that the process itself is useful. I wish I’d undertaken such a project at a much earlier age.

Gratitude

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Jennifer Rubin listed things she was grateful for in a Washington Post column yesterday. I felt grateful that her list was so long. If you’d added up everything on it, you’d have a lot more cause for hope than seemed warranted a month ago, and you’d come up with one particularly big reason for gratitude — American democracy withstood the assault of election deniers and thuggish-minded Trumpians in the recent elections.

Congress and state governments are still riddled with cynical opportunists, election deniers, and unprincipled politicians who have demonstrated that they would be content with the United States transitioning into a country making its way through history under the yoke of authoritarian rule. But it’s just possible that the tide has turned. It’s just possible that we’ll get through this crisis and come out of it stronger than ever. At this moment, there is cause for hope, though not not yet cause to relax.

2023 House of Representatives Preview

George Conway, the prominent conservative lawyer who has become a leader among never Trumper voices, diagnoses a major factor in the nation’s woes: Republican politicians in deep red Congressional districts can’t win Republican primaries unless they cater to the MAGA base, an aggregation of voters that comprises the ruthless, the cynical, the aggrieved, the resentful, the deluded, and the deranged. So it is that what Conway calls the “looney-bin caucus” will dominate the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and therefore the House itself. Their agenda is to conduct baseless investigations to generate polemical themes for themselves and their propaganda-spewing allies and to undermine Democrats and the Biden administration at every turn.

Garland and the Special Counsel

Attorney General Garland did the right thing in appointing Jack Smith as a special counsel to pursue the criminal investigations relating to the Jan 6th insurrection and the Mar-a -Lago documents. Smith’s character is beyond reproach, and he is superbly qualified for the job. There’s virtually no question that Smith’s recommendation will be unbiased and that Garland will follow it. Garland has now insulated himself as much as is possible to avoid the appearance of having any political motive if he brings about the indictment of Trump. Trump is, of course, screaming and shouting baseless accusations. These will greatly intensify and may be amplified by a call-to-arms among his faithful if he is indicted. That prospect shouldn’t — and I’m confident that it won’t — deter Garland from carrying out his oath of office.

Relief for Democrats Fades as Reality Sets In

The Democrats did much better than a lot of people thought they would, and they retained control of the senate, albeit by the barest margin. Now for the bad news: Aided by a decisive advantage in gerrymandering, Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives. A large proportion of Republicans in Congress refused to impeach Trump and declined to certify Biden’s election, thereby demonstrating that they are – it’s not too much to say — unprincipled power-seeking nihilists.

Republican Prospects for Retaking the White House in 2024

Conservative lawyer George Conway estimates that about ten percent of Republicans, like him, are “never Trumpers” — they would never vote for Trump under any circumstances. About forty percent are members of the MAGA cult, deluded or perverse individuals who are devoted to Trump. These people would be outraged if Trump isn’t the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. The other fifty percent have varying views about Trump, but are alike in that they would support the Republican nominee regardless of whether it’s Trump or someone else. Given this dynamic, if the Republican nominee is Trump, at least ten percent — and that number is more likely to grow than to shrink — will either not vote or will vote for the Democratic candidate, a defection large enough to doom Republican hopes of retaking the White House. If the Republican nominee isn’t Trump, the defection of Trump devotees — members of the MAGA cult — will have the same effect. There will have to be a major shift in circumstances if Republicans are to win the presidency in 2024. It seems, however, that major shifts in circumstances are becoming increasingly frequent.

Eight Billion People and Counting

I read that the world population of human beings reached eight billion yesterday. It’s on track to reach about ten billion a few decades from now before tapering off. A helpful interactive feature in the report I was reading informed me that there were only two and a half billion people in the world when I was born, in 1931, and that 100% of the people in the world are younger than I am. I’m not kidding —- that’s what it said. After doing a bit of math and with the aid of other data they supplied, I calculated that only 99.95% of the people in the world are younger than I am.

So many people! “Keep Earth Habitable!” would be my campaign slogan if I were running for office. Slowing the rate of population growth is one of the critical requirements for the survival of our species. If human beings were rational and everyone was a person of good will, we would have long ago collectively acted to end the climate crisis. One thing we would have done would have been to make free birth control and abortion services available to every woman in the world.

Trump Redux

Trump is about to announce that he’s going to run for president in 2024. A lot of people in his own party have advised him it’s not a good time to do so — right after most of his election-denying allies have been defeated at the polls. I think the main reason he’s announcing his candidacy so soon is so that when he’s indicted, if he’s running for president, he’ll be better positioned to claim that it’s to keep him from becoming president again: “It’s political payback,” he’ll cry. “It’s what they do in banana republics.” “It’s because Democrats think it’s the only way they can stop me.” “It won’t work.” “Voters won’t stand for such corruption.” He’ll smirk. He’ll hold out an arm and point. He’ll lie with every breath. But a lot more people now understand that he’s a charlatan.

Essential Tasks for the Lame Duck Congress

The Washington Post ran an an especially salient editorial yesterday. Given that Republicans will almost certainly gain control of the House of Representatives, it’s imperative for the lame duck Congress, whose life will end as the new year begins, to pass critically needed legislation that the Republican-controlled Congress would surely block: 1) raising the debt limit sufficiently so Republicans can’t extort concessions from Democrats by threatening to cause the United Staes to default on its obligations; 2) authorizing ample funding of continuing support for Ukraine in continuing to defend itself against Russian aggression; and 3) passing legislation to protect the integrity of electoral processes, most particularly by reforming the Electoral Count Act to close loopholes that would enable an unscrupulous presidential candidate to prevail despite having failed to win a majority of electoral votes at the polls. None of these measures would be necessary if the Republican Congressional leaders were honorable and responsible, but that’s not the case.

A Lot To Be Relieved About

Last evening Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, of Nevada, was projected to hold her seat, assuring that Democrats would maintain control of the Senate. If Senator Warnock, of Georgia, holds his seat in the December 6th runoff, Democrats will achieve a net gain of one senate seat.

No less important: Most election deniers and anti-democracy Republicans were defeated in both Senate and House contests and in contests for state offices. Feared disruptions of the electoral process, baseless law suits such as those filed by Trump and allies after his 2020 defeat at the polls, and riots by pro-MAGA thugs didn’t materialize. The electoral process and results were, on balance, a rebuke of Trump and anti-democratic forces that were threatening to take American democracy down.

Thank goodness, but we still have a lot to worry about. It’s highly likely that Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives and that for the next two years they will throw as many monkey wrenches as they can lay their paws on in an effort to discredit and impede the orderly working of the federal government with the aim of making Biden look bad. They will likely make much needed reforms impossible to pass. Republicans haven’t gained as much power as they had hoped to, but their character hasn’t changed.

A Reflection after Reading a Self-Help Book

I recently read a self help book, or, I would call it, more precisely, a how-best-to-get-through-life book. I knew it wouldn’t be frothy or gimmicky, because it was written by a philosopher on the faculty of a renowned university. The author displayed impressive erudition, but I didn’t find his book to be illuminating. After finishing it, I thought: What’s needed is not another compendium of quotations, anecdotes, and scholarly references, but a checklist of what to attend to whenever you make a major decision. I understand that the airplane pilots have such a checklist that they follow when taking off and landing. I think that what’s needed is a how-best-to-get-through-life book that can fit on half a page. I’m making one, and plan to post it in this space. I assume that many people would want to modify it or rewrite it completely. That’s all to the good. My view, based on experience, is that checklists may differ, but everyone could use one.

Nothing to Cheer About

We didn’t witness a mid-term rout of Democrats or widespread disruptions of the election process. That’s cause for relief, but nothing to cheer about. Given the authoritarian bent of the Republican Party, the great number of Republican election deniers running for office, and the nihilistic and repressive policy positions of Republicans, Democrats should have won decisively. That they didn’t is a glaring indiction that our country and our democracy are still sick. Republicans will almost certainly take control of the House in January, and Democrats are not yet assured of keeping even a hair-breadth margin of control of the Senate. American democracy is deep in the woods and has a long way to go before being out of them.

Further Observations about the Elections

Among potentially swing states, Trumpism tragically prevailed in the Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin senate races, and Florida has segued into a solidly Republican state, but the general tenor of nationwide results suggests that election denialism, the vogue for trying to attain power through thuggishness, and Trump himself have peaked and may be in decline. It was heartening that so many exemplary Democratic incumbent senators, representatives, and governors withstood heavily financed attacks.

It still looks like Republicans will gain control of the House, notably because of the effect of partisan gerrymandering by Republican-controlled legislatures. For example, Republicans apparently picked up four seats in Florida because of a Republican-drawn redistricting map. Democrats, in some of the states they control, have been guilty of gerrymandering too. But it’s the net benefit to Republicans nationwide that will likely give them control of the House. The Supreme Court of the United States dealt a heavy blow against American democracy when it washed its hands of gerrymandering. The incidence of gross distortion in the composition of state legislatures from gerrymandering is even worse.

As of this writing, the party that wins the senate races in at least two out of the three states still in contention — Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia — will control the senate for the next two years. As of now, it looks to me like Democrats have a slight edge.

A Few Observations the Morning after Election Day

Not enough voters understood what’s going on in this country. Otherwise, by now, Democrats would have gained firm control of both the House and the Senate.

I was particularly disappointed that Tim Ryan, the Democratic candidate in Ohio for the U.S. Senate, lost decisively to the execrable Republican contender J.D. Vance. Ryan was a strikingly superior candidate. Vance’s win is a bad omen.

Ron DeSantis’s landslide victory in Florida all but ensures that he will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. It’s a pity, because he’s a dreadful human being.

It’s not much consolation that the Democrats did better than a lot of people expected.

Musk

I read that Elon Musk, a genius of sorts who has become both the richest person in the world and its most manic tweeter, has tweeted his 114,000,000 or so followers and advised them to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections. Musk’s behavior increasingly suggests that his exceptionally high intellectual I.Q. is perfectly balanced by his exceptionally low emotional I.Q. With all his wealth, power, and fame, he has a rare and wonderful opportunity to work for the public good. Instead, he’s become prominent among forces propelling our country toward chaos and authoritarianism. His range of vision is of astronomical dimensions, but it doesn’t extend beyond his ego.

Disturbing Headlines and Comments Indicative of Moral Decline That May Bring American Democracy Down

Columnist Jennifer Rubin: “Many high-profile Republicans have refused to pledge to respect the {election} results.”

Headline: “Republican extremism is endangering the very idea of the professional, disinterested public servant.”

Columnist Ezra Klein: “The 2022 elections are very likely to sweep into power hundreds of Republicans committed to making sure that the 2024 presidential election goes their way, no matter how the vote tally turns out.”

Lead headline in yesterday’s New York Times: “Misinformation {i.e. lies} on Pelosi attack spread by G.O.P.”

Historian Jon Meacham: “We must rouse the conscience of the nation.”

What a Week Next Week Will Be

Close to 300 election deniers are on the ballot for the House, the Senate, and key state offices. We’ll soon learn how many voters are non-deluded people of good will. Some considerable degree of chaos appears to be inevitable. If most of the election deniers win, it will signal that we’re on course to anti-democratic rule.

This blog will be suspended until Monday because I’ll be traveling and attending my granddaughter’s wedding Saturday.

Types of Impairment

Washington Post columnists span the political spectrum, including one, Marc Thiessen, who is a MAGA cultist through and through. Thiessen’s column yesterday was headlined, “Has Fetterman been tested for cognitive impairment? Voters have a right to know.”

Fetterman, who is the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania and is recovering from a stroke, is battling a Trump-endorsed opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, for an open United States Senate seat in that state. In a debate between the two men, Fetterman demonstrated that he has a neurological impairment that is common with recovering stroke victims, but he also demonstrated that he understands the issues, that he has sound judgment, and that he is a good man. Who better than the voting public is qualified to test whether Fetterman’s impairment is disqualifying? A neurologist of Marc Thiessen’s choosing perhaps? What is crystal clear, and needs no testing by anyone, is that Mehmet Oz has a moral impairment that is starkly disqualifying, a consideration that eludes Marc Thiessen, as it does everyone in the Trump cult camp.

Approaching a Bridge over Rough Waters

If I were a political cartoonist, I’d draw a picture of a train headed toward a bridge over a river. I would draw the bridge so it looks unstable. The train is labeled “American democracy.” The engineer is labeled “American electorate.” The bridge is labeled “2022 elections.” The river below is rough water with waves labeled “Election Denial,” Chaos,” “Violence,” and “Authoritarian rule.” The cartoon is titled: “Will the Bridge Hold?

I admit this sounds corny and archaic as a piece of journalism. I only describe it rather than draw it because it’s a picture that appeared in my mind, and I can’t draw.

The Tragedy of Elon Musk

Headline: “Elon Musk, right-wing figures push misinformation about Pelosi attack.”

Elon Musk’s genius-level neuronal calculating modules evidently take up so much space in his brain that there’s no room for modules needed for good judgment. The right-wing propaganda cadre, exemplified by scoundrels like Steve Bannon, have been spewing lies and innuendo meant to plant in the minds of people the false and vile claim that the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband was staged. It would only have taken one or two intact neurons of the hundreds of millions (billions?) in Musk’s brain to alert him that Bannon and like-minded people are a pox on the land and causing immense damage to our country, but Musk’s brain is so deficient in judgment that he irresponsibly encouraged Bannon and other propagandists, saying that “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.”

“Tiny”? What does that mean? One in a million? One in a billion? There is not a scintilla of evidence — there is not the most remote likelihood — that the attack was staged. It may be true that there’a a one in a billion chance that it was staged. There’s also a one in a billion chance that Musk hired the attacker! No one is saying that, however, because no one is as emotionally stupid as Elon Musk.

Because of Musk’s unparalleled wealth, he has enormous power. It’s a tragedy that he’s not emotionally competent to use it.

Violence, Incitement to Violence, American Democracy, and George W. Bush

Until Donald Trump totally eclipsed him in 2016, I considered George W. Bush to be the worst president in American history. Unlike Trump, Bush had some redeeming features. A standout among them, was his condemning the demonization of Muslims after 9/11. Now, as a widely known and generally well-liked two-term past president with impeccable Republican Party credentials, he has a clear call to duty to make a major speech or statement condemning Trump, election-denial, voter suppression, violence and incitement-to-violence, and Republican candidates who have shown themselves to be morally unqualified to hold office. He could do a lot to tamp down hate speech and hate action; he could greatly improve the chances that American democracy will survive and be strengthened. Hope that he would rise to this occasion has all but vanished. He doesn’t have what it takes.

A Failure of Communication and Action

It’s weird how Democrats, though their agendas traditionally favor the working class, the poor, minorities, and the downtrodden, have become associated in a great swath of the public mind with elite supercilious sorts, and how Republicans, whose agendas traditionally favor the rich and powerful, have become associated with ordinary people with good solid American values. As a lot of people have pointed out, Democrats have done a poor job of setting the record straight about their own accomplishments and about the Republican Party’s semi-fascist behavior. Except for lonely voices like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Democrats have failed to raised a hue and cry over how the system is rigged to favor big monied interests. Democrats should have worked harder to bring into existence a much more progressive tax code. Their failure to do so is one reason why American democracy is hanging by a thread labeled hope.

Symptom of a Dying Democracy

Sometimes you read about somebody dying after a long illness. Democracy is having a long illness, but we don’t yet know if it’s going to die after it. Democracy is sicker in some parts of the country than in others. Its illness is particularly severe in Wisconsin, where, even though there is a slightly greater number of Democrats than Republicans, when the Republicans got control, they pulled off some of the most anti-democratic gerrymandering in the country, so that at this point, even if more people in Wisconsin vote Democratic than Republican, it results in almost two-thirds of the legislature being Republican. It may tilt to more than two-thirds this year, which would mean that the Republican-controlled legislature could override vetoes by a Democratic governor and pass laws that would tilt the playing field even more. In this way, Wisconsin may become permanently controlled by Republicans, even though they are the minority party. Isn’t this unconstitutional? Can’t the Supreme Court stop it? It is, and the Supreme Court could put an end to it, but the right-wing-controlled Court has sent a clear message that it won’t interfere.

The Nature of Politically Active Billionaires

The Washington Post yesterday had an article on big political spenders that included a list of the fifty people who have spent the most money on political campaigns and causes. These people are billionaires or pretty close to being billionaires. The overwhelming majority of them supported Republicans. Most people who are super rich want to get even richer and more powerful, and they they have little interest in the public good. Putin’s symbiotic relationship with oligarchs enabled him to solidify power. A majority of American oligarchs appear to want a Putin-like characters in the White House and in Congress who will protect and advance their interests. They give little thought to the fate of the country and humanity at large. Bravo to good billionaires, ones who are concerned about the public interest.

Signs of Heavy Weather Ahead

New York Times headline: “Democrats, on Defense in Blue States,
Brace for a Red Wave in the House.”

Progressive activist filmmaker Michael Moore message to those on his emailing list: “The majority of you have enthusiastically joined me in my belief that we are going to crush these traitorous coup-supporting Republicans who have stripped women of basic human rights and seek to destroy the rest of a democracy that is seriously hanging on by a thread.” 

Another Headline: “Democrats locked in close contests with election deniersfor key secretary of state posts.”

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin: “‘Low information’ Americans are the ones who will decide the midterm elections.”

That’s just a small sampling of nerve-wracking messages and news items I’ve seen the last couple of days.

The Movement to Undercut Our Policy of Supporting Ukraine

Headline: “Liberals urge Biden to rethink Ukraine strategy.” Not only morally compromised Republicans, like House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, but, now we learn, many progressive Democrats are inclined to abandon the heroic people of Ukraine and indulge in an old-fashioned big power carving up of a country that has been invaded, pummeled, and fiendishly brutalized by a psychopathic dictator. This is just what Putin is counting on, and what he may get if the Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives. Appeasing bullies stimulates their bullying instincts. As long as Ukrainians are united in the courageous and morally just defense of their country, we have a duty to continue supporting them. In concert with the Ukrainian government, negotiate with Putin; create an off-ramp for him. But not after saying, in effect, we’re tired of high gas prices and tired of backing Ukraine.

Pity the Regional Newspaper

The Durango Herald, the most prominent newspaper in southwestern Colorado, is trying to maintain profitability despite having a readership that’s split between Trumpist types and those who prefer to live in a pluralistic liberal democracy. It’s hard to know what the owners believe, and apparently that’s the way they want to keep it. The paper made tepid endorsements for Democratic candidates, but tried to balance that by endorsing a Republican candidate for secretary of state who, if elected, would have a great deal of power in determining how elections are run in the state and it’s a good debt would use it to tilt the next election toward candidates running on the authoritarian (Republican) ticket. There’s no hint in any of the Herald’s editorials that I’ve seen that the Republican Party is dominated by election deniers and that the fate of American democracy may be determined by the outcome of the upcoming elections. As mail-in voting began last week, an editorial ran proclaiming that the best candidate would be a hypothetical centrist who combined the best qualities of both parties, an exemplary individual who, for lack of existing, isn’t on the ballot.

Fascist-Style Politics

Headline: “In Nevada, election deniers prepare to sabotage the midterms.” Not just in Nevada. The words keep coming back to haunt me: “Three hundred and seventy election deniers are on the ballot for House, Senate, and key state offices.” Republicans, having morphed into authoritarians, are attempting to prove that elections can’t be fair, that democracy doesn’t work, and that it’s necessary for them to take charge, and stay in charge. They talk like fascists, and can’t be expected to act any better. Election night may last for weeks.

Types of Rich People

There are gradations in between, but I think it’s helpful to consider that there are three basic types of rich people:

A. There are the greedy rich — people who may be extremely rich but are more interested in wielding power and showing off how rich they are and getting even richer, and care little or nothing for the common good. Trump is an example of this type, and, sadly, so are many — probably most –- billionaires and multi-billionaires.

B. There are rich people who aren’t in thrall to the trappings of wealth and feel an obligation to shed much of their fortune to benefit society. Mackenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife, is an example of this type. When she found herself possessed many tens of billions of dollars after her divorce settlement, she set about at once distributing very large amounts of money to good causes and is still at it.

C. There are rich people who are even more sensitive to the appalling disparity in income and wealth between the rich and the poor. An example of this type is Madeline Engelhorn, a Dutch woman, who, The New York Times reports, is an activist in urging governments to adopt a much more progressive tax systems. She wants higher taxes levied on rich people like herself. The problem with philanthropy, Ms. Engelhorn says, is that much of it serves to elevate the status and power of the donor.

Election Prospects

Chris Hayes’s MSNBC news show last evening led off with a grim look at the polls, which strongly suggest that Republicans will gain control of the House of Representatives. Most people don’t realize how much damage they can do, nor that what damage they can do they will do. Unless a surprise upset happens, it looks like ugly times lie ahead.

A Likely Consequence of Republicans Taking Control of the House

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has intimated that if Republicans gain control of the House, they would block continuing aid for Ukraine. It’s not surprising that the party dominated by election deniers exhibits deference to Putin. Authoritarians are drawn toward each other — comrades-in-arms in wanting to make the world safe for dictators. Abandoning Ukraine would imprint on the United States a stain that no amount of rationalizing would ever wash away.

Democracy in Peril, continued

Headline: “Voters See Democracy in Peril,
But Saving It Isn’t a Priority.” It’s as if people
are thinking, “I’d be concerned about democracy
if gas prices weren’t so high.” It’s hard to fathom
how so many citizens don’t realize what’s at stake.
Democracy is on the ballot, Democrats rightly say.
So is truth, decency, and America’s fate.

Democracy in Peril

Reading a New York Times a headline yesterday –- “Republicans gain edge as voters worry about the economy” — produced in me a feeling of deep foreboding. The great majority of voters don’t seem to realize not only that Republicans have no agenda for improving the economy, but far more important, their party has become dominated by election deniers — it’s become the authoritarian party. “Once democracy is lost, it is irretrievable,” columnist Jennifer Rubin noted. We’re three weeks from reaching a cliff, where it may fall away.

What Putin Should Do

Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has good advice for Putin: Declare victory in defending Russia from Ukraine and in particular in defense of the Donbas region and enter into protracted negotiations with Ukraine about borders and political rights of people living in Donbas. Pursuing such a course would strengthen Putin’s hold on power. Putin would be praised for ending the war even though he started it. McFaul is confident that the fanatic war hawks in Russia would be sidelined. The trouble is that if Putin were rational, he wouldn’t have started the war in the first place. He can’t be expected to act rationally even in his self-interest. Therefore, the future consequences of his war on Ukraine remain uncertain and ominous.

Endless Shocking

I’m a veteran at being shocked, and I was shocked all over again yesterday when I read in The New York Times that the vast majority of Republicans running for Congress and important state offices are 2020 election deniers. We’re witnessing a collective collapse of values (like that of being a decent person) that threatens American democracy. Decisively defeating these miscreants in the great majority of key races is imperative if the moral pandemic gripping the nation is to be stamped out, or at least relegated to the margins. Otherwise, it will drive America down.

If Only Democrats Could Gain Decisive Control of Congress

Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin commented on what could be accomplished if Democrats could hold onto the House and expand the Senate majority sufficiently to eliminate the filibuster rule. Among other benefits, the District of Columbia could be admitted as a state, legislation could be passed to ensure free and fair elections, and term limits and other reforms could be instituted to protect us from majorities of ideologically driven justices on the Supreme Court

The House Investigation and What Should Follow

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection has concluded its public hearings, and will issue a report by the end of the year. The Committee, its staff, and those who have cooperated with it have performed an inestimable public service, bringing to light and establishing a historical record of all aspects of the insurrection and associated events. I think that any person of good will who has kept up with the stream of revelations that has emerged from the Committee’s work would agree with me that Trump and his principal abettors should be prosecuted for every crime in every jurisdiction in which there appears to be sufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Pigs, The Supreme Court, and Some Kind of Karma

California is trying to ban extreme cruelty in raising pigs. The pig raisers are opposed. Giving pigs room to turn around in their cages would have a bad effect on the pig meat market. The case is before the Supreme Court. I have the impression that at issue is interpretation of the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. States aren’t supposed to interfere with interstate commerce. Even to prevent cruelty to pigs? It’s been reported that Supreme Court justices are unusually puzzled by this case. One thing for sure — at least it seems sure to me — is that if humans can’t keep from being cruel to animals, some kind of karma is going to catch up with them.

Putin and the Nuclear Threat

By a wide margin, the task that eclipses all others is doing whatever can be done to reduce the threat of nuclear war. If withdrawing support from Ukraine would maximize the likelihood of avoiding nuclear war, I would be for it, tragic as that would be. It happens, however, that withdrawing support from Ukraine would likely increase the likelihood of nuclear war. Putin would roll over Ukraine. The Russian war hawks would be emboldened. Putin would demand more, and our credibility would have evaporated. At some point, we would have to resist. Now, not later, is a better time to stand firm. We have to keep helping Ukraine as long as they want to continue to defend themselves, but we must also talk with Putin and work to achieve a settlement. Stand firm, keep talking, keep working. Keep thinking. It’s what we must do and all we can do.

Four weeks to E-Day

Four weeks to midterm elections of unprecedented importance. How they turn out will likely determine whether the United States will remain a quasi-democratic constitutional republic that adheres to the rule of law, or whether it will become an essentially authoritarian state. A third possibility is that it will be paralyzed by internal strife, endless litigation, and episodes of organized violence.

Our Society in Decay

An impressive piece of reporting in The New York Times revealed that many big name health insurance companies have been bilking the government of the United States by inflating claims for reimbursement under various medical programs. The prevalence of dishonesty on this scale is disturbing and and disheartening just as is the dishonesty of a great many members of Congress in election denying and lying about other matters. This burgeoning of cheating and lying — Trump’s modus operandi — indicates that our society is in decay.

Russia’s War on Ukraine

A negotiated settlement requires giving Putin an off-ramp. He destroyed a major off-ramp for himself by purporting to annex four of Ukraine’s eastern provinces after conducting a sham referendum, but he still needs one. Maybe something along these lines would be possible: Cease-fire, and all Russian forces withdraw to where they were before last February 24th, when the invasion began (Russia continuing to hold Crimea.) Ukraine pledges not to join NATO, but NATO will defend Ukraine if it is attacked again. The four eastern provinces are demilitarized and replaced by a small force of U.N. troops. The U.N. holds a real referendum in the four provinces. A special U.N.commission is empowered to root out fascists in Ukraine. (There are none, but this satisfies Putin’s requirement.) NATO pledges never to attack Russia unless it is attacked. (NATO wouldn’t attack anyway, but this satisfies Putin’s requirement.) Sanctions against Russia are lifted. Putin is conditionally absolved of war crimes charges. All countries enter into good faith nuclear arms reduction agreements, trade agreements, and respect for human rights agreements.I’m not an expert. I don’t know if something along these lines would be possible, but experts should be thinking creatively and hard about how to end this war.

Republicans Who Are Pro Life Should Vote for Democrats

Republican policy favors more lives coming into being — they are for perpetuating fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs. But they are indifferent to deprivation of privacy and to the pain, suffering, dislocation, and sometimes death that it causes for great numbers of women, particularly ones with modest means. Their “pro-life” pretensions are belied by their willingness to implement forced-birth policies that put reproductive health and lives at risk; their deterring people from getting Covid vaccinations, which results in increased hospitalizations and deaths; their opposing effective gun-safety laws, which results in increased numbers of injuries and deaths; and their zeal in cutting Medicaid and undermining the Affordable Care Act, which results in increased numbers of illness and deaths. Republican politicians are not pro-life; they are pro-special interest groups that fund their campaigns.

Another Routine Shocking Revelation

Shocking news events and revelations have become so routine that we tend to become numb to them. We need to stop and consider their gravity. According to a Washington Post analysis, of 569 Republican candidates who are running in key races for state and federal office, 53 percent have denied Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election despite the lack of any evidence to back up such a proposition. This is something not too long ago that I would never have imagined could happen in our country. It’s a stark warning of that American democracy is in deep peril. A month from now we’ll have clearer idea as to whether it will survive.

An Unfortunate Quality of Dictators

Dictators and aspiring dictators are drawn toward each other. They are kindred spirits. Putin has conspired with OPEC dictators to reduce oil production, which will have the effect of raising gas prices and increasing inflation, causing Biden’s approval ratings to go down and increasing the chances that Republicans can gain control of Congress in next month’s elections, which would greatly increase the chances of Trump becoming President again and once again doing Putin’s bidding. Meanwhile, the risk mounts that Russia, China, and North Korea will cross red lines in concert.

The Spookiest Thing

Disturbing events lie ahead of us. I hope they will be intermixed with nice surprises. The spookiest of them concerns a case in which the Supreme Court will rule on whether state legislatures can ignore the vote counts in presidential elections and send their chosen slate of electors to Congress rather than ones who will reflect the will of the voters. This is what Trump wanted to have happen in January 2021: Republican-controlled state legislatures would shoo him in. The argument that under the Constitution this would be proper is sheer fantasy, but it’s been dressed up in legal verbiage by John Eastman, one of the lawyers who encouraged Trump to try to achieve a coup. If the Supreme Court subscribes to it, nothing can be done about it. In a few months we’ll find out how extreme the authoritarian-minded, extreme right-wing justices are.

Send a Letter to the Editor; Mine for today:

One Conclusive Reason to Vote for Adam Frisch

On January 6, 2021, our representative in Congress, Lauren Boebert, was among the 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives — about two-thirds of all House Republicans — who voted to dispute the Electoral College count that established Joe Biden as having won the 2020 Presidential Election. They hadn’t the slightest basis for doing so other than to promote and perpetuate Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen. This was the day of the assault on the Capitol and Trump’s attempt to retain power despite having lost — to bring off a coup and transform American democracy into an autocratic form of government headed by himself.

That one man would betray our country in this fashion is lamentable. That the Republican Party and the large majority of Republican politicians committed themselves to aiding him is a monumental tragedy.

Lauren Boebert was and continues to be one of those election deniers. She is a prominent figure among the forces seeking to convert our political system into one-party authoritarian rule. There are many reasons why Adam Frisch would better serve our district’s interests than Lauren Boebert. One reason alone is conclusive: Boebert favors and will work to bring about extreme right-wing authoritarian control of our government: Frisch favors and will work to preserve and strengthen American democracy, free and fair elections, and our sacred principles of justice and fairness and that no person is above the law.

This First Monday in October

The Supreme Court begins a new term today. We look ahead to its proceedings with foreboding. A majority of the justices are right-wing extremists with no sense of restraint about bending the law to fit their ideological desires. It’s also almost five weeks to election day. Even though contests are no longer between Democrats and Republicans but between Democrats and authoritarians, and the latter group continues to employ authoritarian methods to gain control of governments at all levels, most voters, though they may feel more than a normal sense of unease at what’s happening in the world, don’t seem to realize that a terrifying hour in American history is at hand.

Needed: A World Class Hostage Negotiator

Last week, Putin ranted that four provinces of a neighboring country are now sacred Russian soil and claimed that Western countries, particularly the United States, are Satanic forces bent on tearing Russia apart. In lieu of having a reasonable argument to make, he waved his nuclear saber in the air.

Here we have a mad man, or someone pretending to be a mad man, or some mix of both, holding Western countries (i. e. all of us) as hostages. We need a world-class hostage negotiator to talk with him. The West needs to accelerate becoming energy independent of Russia, step up its support of Ukraine, and keep Putin engaged and hopeful. Chances may increase that his compatriots will gently persuade him to step aside. The hours before he is stripped of power may be the most dangerous ones the world has known.

The Grim Situation in Ukraine

This past week Putin claimed that the transparently sham referendums he conducted justied his declaring that he has annexed four eastern provinces of Ukraine. Accordingly, he says, any attempt to retake parts of these provinces currently occupied by Russaan forces or to defend parts of these provinces currently occupied by Ukrainian forces will be treated as an attack on sacred Russian soil. This is madness, and that may be Putin’s intent, as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it — to “out crazy the West.”

By means of this stratagem, Putin has made it almost impossible for the West to enter into a peace agreement that allows him to save face. That has to be his loss, not the West’s. We must continue to give Ukraine what it needs as long at it wants to continue to defend itself against Putin’s aggression. The West has a weak point — Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas. This must end if the West is to prevail. What’s needed is for the West to go on a war footing as far as oil and gas is concerned: institute rationing, price controls, tax and subsidy nudges, including windfall profits taxes. We can’t frustrate Putin’s aims without determination and sacrifice. That would be hard to achieve in any circumstances, and at present all the more so because the United States and several key European countries are only semi-functional because of internal political turmoil.

Putin and Trump: Masters of Imagining Makes It So.

Putin has announced the results of referendums held in four eastern provinces of Ukraine: In every one of them, citizens voted in favor of Russian annexation! The people have spoken! In accordance with their “wishes,” Russia has annexed these provinces. Congratulations to the citizens of these provinces for choosing to live on sacred Russian soil! Russia must defend its citizens! Any attempt by anyone to gain control of these new provinces will be treated as an attack on Russia itself!

Few people in the world will believe such a wild fabrication, though many prisoners of Russian state-controlled news media will. Putin will repeat this big lie in a convincing voice again and again. He has reason to think that it will succeed. He has only to notice that Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen is still alive in the United States — seventy percent of Republicans believe it. We must not slack off in our support for Ukraine or for holding Trump accountable for his crimes.

What’s Needed

Everyone wants to be happy. According to the Dalai Lama, being honest and kind — feeling compassion toward others and respecting their rights –- makes one happier. If he’s right –- and I’m convinced that he is — then what’s needed in the world is to imbue this wisdom into the minds of everyone: Be honest and kind. That’s not self-sacrifice. It’s in your own self-interest!

A Strange Time

Headline: “My therapist was a robot. ‘It must be a strange time to be a human,’ it told me.” Less than six weeks to the elections, and we don’t know how they will turn out or what will happen in the aftermath. There’s a good chance that the fate of democracy will depend upon the results. The outspoken progressive movie maker Michael Moore has turned optimistic, producing the slightest of upticks in my hopes. Nobody knows. Some key contests may be cliffhangers when election day arrives and may continue to be the next morning, and after that.

Voters: What Do You Prefer?

Do you prefer candidates who, in order to advance their personal political ambitions, promote or refuse to disavow Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen? Do you prefer candidates who are willing to ignore overwhelming evidence of Trump’s demagoguery, his habitual mendacity, his contempt for the law, and his casual subordination of the interests of our country to his narcissistic impulses? Do you prefer members of Congress who oppose the Electoral Count Reform Act, which would ensure that the election of a President of the United States will reflect the will of the voters rather than the will of authoritarian-minded politicians? Or do you prefer candidates, regardless of what political party they belong to, who are dedicated to safeguarding and preserving American democracy?

Humankind Sleepwalking into an Oven

The president of the Republic of Columbia recently gave a strong speech at the U.N. calling out the world’s most prominent nations for not working together to reduce fossil fuel consumption, save forests, and fight climate change. Among the largest and most populous countries, China, India, Russia, and Brazil are controlled by authoritarian leaders, and the United States has been severely weakened by authoritarians who control one of the country’s two major political parties and threaten to take total control of its government. Authoritarians by their nature care between little and nothing about the common good, much less the future of the peoples of the world, which is why, viewed from an exterior perspective, humankind looks like it’s sleepwalking into an oven.

Notes from Surreal Land

Trump says he can declassify documents just by his thought processes. Regardless of how it’s marked, regardless of its history, no document can be identified as either classified or unclassified except by Trump or someone who knows what Trump is thinking, and that knowledge is evanescent, because Trump’s thoughts may change at any moment. Trump is not only a scoundrel, he is demonstrably crazy; yet he has such a large cult following that Republican politicians can’t win primaries without the their support. And what does Trump want? He wants to be president again, so he can pardon himself and family and cronies and all his thuggish supporters and attain authoritarian power. Democrats and the media should get it across to voters that these are not ordinary elections that are almost upon us: The Republican Party is not what it was. We’re in danger of waking up after Election Day and finding that we’re not in a democracy anymore.

In the United States We Have Two Major Political Parties: The Democratic Party and the Authoritarian Party

The 19th century Electoral Count Act contains ambiguous and vague language that could give unprincipled judges and legislators cover for allowing the House of Representatives to overturn a presidential election contrary to the tabulation of votes in each state. This is what Trump and his allies attempted to do after the 2020 Presidential election. A bill was recently introduced in the House to make it clear that the will of the voters must prevail. Two hundred and three Republicans voted against this critically necessary reform. Only nine Republicans voted for it, all of whom are leaving Congress at the end of this term. This near unanimity of anti-democratic behavior demonstrates that the Republican Party has become the Authoritarian Party.

Trump and Republican Backup Candidates

Trump blusters and fulminates more than ever, but he’s besieged by multiple criminal and civil investigations and legal actions. The Republican politicians who have long curried his favor may very quickly find that he’s more of a liability than an asset. He may fade as fast as a streaking meteor. Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, who has been positioning himself to take Trump’s place as the presumptive Republican 2024 presidential candidate, is himself in danger of being sidelined as a result of his blunder in abducting migrant refugees and shipping them to an island off the coast of Massachusetts. Right-wing authoritarian-seeking Republicans needn’t be anxious, however. They have a deep bench of equally unprincipled demagogue-type office seekers.

What Republicans Should Think About

If you are a Republican, it might be well to consider that the Republican Party establishment and the great majority of Republicans running for office in this November’s elections have forsaken traditional Republican values and policy positions. They’ve cast their lot with the disgraced former president and shamelessly abetted his attempt to gain authoritarian power. In this endeavor they are courting gun safety opponents, White Christian nationalists, the resentful, the aggrieved, the tax dodgers, the polluters, the scam artists, and other components of the MAGA base.

Dark Clouds on the Horizon

A heaviness lies over the land because the Republican Party and the vast majority of Republican politicians and a large majority of Republican voters have adopted the depraved ethos of the sociopathic, authoritarian power-seekiing former President. If, as still seems likely, Republicans gain control of Congress in the upcoming elections, it will mark the nation’s entry into an unprecedented era of dark times.

Trump

Watching a clip of Trump at his recent Ohio rally, or anywhere, is a dispiriting experience. In Ohio he spewed his usual line of lies and all but urged his supporters to act violently when the time comes — the time for the next coup attempt, I suppose. I read yesterday that about a third of the U.S. population supports Trump. That figure is a good indicator of how sick our country is.

Chances that Democracy will Survive.

Headline: “Republicans in key battleground races refuse to say they will accept the results.” The article reports on how “scores of Republican election deniers are on the ballot”. It’s appalling, but it’s the reality. It’s why the elections less than two months from now are critical to the survival of American democracy. Because of the way our federal system works, and through gerrymandering and voting suppression laws, Republicans have succeeded in tilting the playing field in their favor. Chances that democracy will survive look less than even.

Blog Writing Notes

From time to time when I’m reading news items or opinion pieces, I’ll come across something that gives me an idea for writing a blog for the next day. I don’t follow up on most of them. Today, instead of picking a subject to write about, I’ll mention a few recent stories that caught my eye:

Law professor Zephyr Teachout says that teenagers spend over seven hours looking at screen every day. That doesn’t sound good. I’d like to see breakdown of how this time is divided up.

Prince Charles (now Kind Charles III) used tax breaks, offshore accounts, etc. to get even richer. These royals don’t seem to be worth idolizing. Indeed, they should be heavily taxed.

Florida Governor DeSantis chartered a plane to send migrant refugees to Martha’s Vineyard (a resort island off the coast of Massachusetts). Texas Governor Abbott sent migrants to Vice-President Harris’s home. “How low can they sink?” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd rightly asks.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is donating Patagonia, his three billion dollar company, to a trust dedicated to preserving the environment and and fighting climate change. Here’s a case of an exceptional billionaire, one devoted to the public good.

Want To Be a Thug? History is Calling.

Trump says there will be “big, big troubles” if he is indicted. He says that “The country won’t stand for it.” It’s an exhilarating time for rebels who have yearned for a cause but didn’t have one. What a relief that Trump came along. Fascists can take control if a critical number of thuggish instincts are awakened. Trump and his allies and emulators are ringing bells as loudly as they can. Legions of thugs and potential thugs are pricking up their ears, hopeful that their time of glory is at hand.

The Effect of Rot Spreading through the Judiciary

Headline: “DOJ warns judge that delaying the FBI’s Trump investigation is a national security risk.” The Trump-appointed judge didn’t care about that and issued an order unsupported by the law that has the effect of imperiling national security and delaying an important part of the Trump / classified documents investigation indefinitely. As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has pointed out, “With Trump has come a legion of extreme activist judges for whom the question is not ‘What is the law?’ but rather ‘Who is asking me to rule?’”

Confidence Man

Looking over a list of books coming out this fall, one that caught my interest was Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.
The book illuminates the cultural forces that allowed such an obviously unfit person to become president. How could such a large segment of the population be taken in by such a manifestly loathsome person? I think it reflects a failure of our educational system. Anyone who has read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would have no trouble identifying Trump for what he is: a confidence man.

A Pernicious Myth Exposed for What It Is

Xi-Jinping has tightened centrist control of China. Putin has become the de facto dictator of Russia. Other power-hungry heads of state like Bolsonaro (Brazil), Modi (India), Erdogan (Turkey) and Orban (Hungary) have transitioned the governments of their countries away from democracy and toward authoritarian rule. Aspiring right-wing authoritarian power seekers and their allies in the United States have observed these developments with interest and included in their propagandistic mix of rhetoric the claim that authoritarian governments, unhindered by a plethora of regulations and weakened by concerns about the general welfare, the common good, health, safety, civil rights, and human rights, are far more efficient than democracies. They have strived to instill in the minds of voters that America will be condemned to weakness if we don’t follow the example of autocratic leaders. Putin’s monumental blunder in invading Ukraine and the demonstrated incompetence of Russia’s military are exposing the myth that democracy is weak and that autocracy is strong and discrediting the blustering pernicious people who have purveyed it.

Ukraine

Ukraine’s successful attempts to regain territory are astonishing. The possibility of achieving peace is increasing. Any reasonable proposed peace agreement — even one that involves conceding territory to the Russians — should be considered, provided that it contains loophole-free security for Ukraine in the future, meaning that, though Ukraine may agree not to become a member of NATO, it will enjoy NATO’s protection no less than any NATO member.

Russia / Europe / U.S. and the Oil and Gas Problem

The U.S. and E.U. allies would like to cap Russian oil and gas prices and thereby limit Russia’s war profiteering from a war it started. Russia is trying to forestall this possibility by threatening to cut Europe off from Russian oil and gas completely. The two sides seem to be setting up a game of chicken. To prevail in this struggle, the West should not just rely on successful bluffing, they should show Putin that they have better cards to play than Putin thought they had. The only way to improve the West’s cards fast enough in the short time remaining before winter sets in would be to act in a way that is appropriate given the gravity of the situation, which would be to go on a wartime footing as the allies did in World War II, including instituting rationing, price controls, excess profits taxes, and incentives to lower domestic oil ad gas consumption and accelerate development and distribution of alternative sources. The West needs to demonstrate its resolve instead of pretending that it can prevail on a business-as-usual basis. Unfortunately, there are two many moving parts and political obstacles for this to happen. We’ll have to do the best we can under the circumstances and hope things work out.

A Little Context to the Big News Coverage of the Moment

Amidst the endless reverential coverage of every bit of minutia relating to England’s royal family, right down to tracking every movement of the deceased queen’s coffin, a salutary op-ed by Karen Attiah appeared in the Washington Post this morning. It was headed: “We must speak the ugly truths about Queen Elizabeth and Britain’s empire.”

Russia’s Attempt to Conquer Ukraine

Headline: “Ukraine makes swift gains along the northern front.” The other day I read a trenchant op-ed by Garry Kasparov and Michael McFaul on the importance of doing more to support Ukraine and weaken Russia. Our duty to help Ukraine is a matter of doing what is right both in our actions affecting others and doing what is right in our self-interest. The political struggle in the United States that will be played out in the upcoming elections is a battle for the soul of America. Ukraine’s struggle to resist Russia is a battle for the soul of the world.

The Case of the Yet-To-Be-Appointed Special Master

The Justice Department has elected to appeal a Trump-appointed judge’s granting of Trump’s request that a special master be appointed to review all the documents the FBI recovered from Trump’s Florida residence. Honorable legal experts are in virtually unanimous agreement that this was an egregiously wrong ruling: It was not grounded in the law.It appears to have been based solely on favoritism toward Trump. The ruling seriously impairs the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump’s probable criminality in his taking and handling of classified documents and, even worse, will impede the FBI’s efforts to ascertain what happened to the documents in 48 empty folders the FBI found that were marked “classified.” The judge’s order itself amounted to obstruction of justice. Will the Justice Department’s appeal be successful. It’s not certain. The circuit court where the appeal will be argued is reportedly riddled with Trump loyalists.

Two Months to Go

Two months to go till the elections (and recounts and court actions that follow?) that will likely decide whether American democracy lives, dies, or remains in or enters a stage where it’s something in between.

The Horror of It

Among the vast trove of sensitive government documents that Trump malevolently removed and hoarded in his Mar-a-Lago palace were ones that were not only classified as top secret, but in a special category of ultra sensitive documents that were restricted to a few key individuals. Among them was one that described the nuclear defenses of a foreign government. The Justice Department’s ability to address the crisis is being grievously constricted by a federal judiciary riddled with partisan hacks that Trump appointed. His tenure in office immeasurably weakened our country, and he continues to damage it every day.

What Type of Republican Are You?

I’ve observed that there are five types of Republicans. If you are a Republican, you might want to consider which type you are:

A) people who share traditional Republican values and policy positions and think Republicans should control the government even though they may have misgivings that the Republican Party and most Republican politicians have failed to repudiate Trump and his emulators and have no agenda other than to gain power by whatever means they can get away with.

B) people whose decision making is more strongly driven by one or more ideologies (for example, religious fundamentalist doctrine, white nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, gun culture, and hatred of government regulations and taxes) than by desire to preserve American democracy;

C) people willing to do whatever it takes to gain and maintain authoritarian power, as long as they can make a pretense of following legal procedures;

D) people willing to do whatever it takes to gain and maintain authoritarian power, regardless of the law, national security interests, concern for civility, or any sense of human decency;

E) people who share traditional Republican values and policy positions but care more about preserving American democracy than party loyalty.

True Horror

Trump’s criminal recklessness in handling U.S. Government documents is sickening, as is the failure of Republican politicians and right-wing media to call him out on it — a collective moral descent to depths I never imagined would be reached in this country. Jennifer Rubin laid it out, chillingly, in her Washington Post column yesterday, along with a telling itemization of contents of a box of government documents recovered from Trump by the FBI. Trump’s appearance in American life and continuing presence is like a dark toxic cloud that descended over the land and thickens with time.

Calling All Thugs

Trump has strongly suggested that if he is elected president in 2024, he will pardon everybody who participated in the January 6, 2021, insurrection and assault on the Capitol that resulted in deaths and injuries and imperiled the lives of many members of Congress. This is not just an attempt by Trump to get the thug vote in 2024. The vast majority of thugs would vote for Trump anyway. This is a signal to all thugs everywhere that if they engage in criminal behavior of the kind Trump favors, they can count on Trump to pardon them if he’s elected president, and, of course, they should understand that he will be elected president, because enough thugs, including many holding a key political offices, will see to it that he is regardless of how citizens vote or would vote if they were given a chance.

Trump and His Defenders and Emulators

It was sickening learning of Trump’s reckless behavior with regard to classified documents, including many of the most secret and sensitive nature. Trump may have caused significantly more damage to the United States than is already plainly evident. With his unceasing stream of rants, lies, and provocations, like a knife-wielding maniac he continues to inflict wound after wound upon our country. Shame on all who have defended him and all who have adopted his modus operandi: fascism in the raw.

American Democracy in Peril

Cornerstones of democracy are hassle-free voting, fair elections, upholding the rule of law, and shunning violence. The MAGA movement, promoted by Trump and his emulators in political office and the media, financed by right-wing extremist billionaires and callous corporations, has virtually no agenda other than to suppress voting, distort the electoral process, subvert the rule of law, create chaos and confusion, mislead the public, and claim that their anointed leaders will remedy what’s wrong with the country. If these people get control of the federal government, American democracy will be lost.

Trump and Law Enforcement

Trump has lately erupted with more conspicuously appalling and strikingly incoherent rants, lies, baseless accusations, and demands than ever. There is every indication that, if he is indicted, he will try to foment an armed rebellion against civil authority. He clearly hopes that he can succeed in intimidating attorney general Merrick Garland from bringing criminal charges against him. Garland has said that he will not be cowed. If Trump is indicted, the moral, practical, and legal necessity of enforcing the law is no less great today than it was over half a century ago when president Eisenhower employed the 101st Airborne to enforce integration in a Little Rock, Arkansas, public school.

Biden’s Upcoming Speech

It’s practically a platitude, but it’s profoundly true, that democracy is on the ballot this November. Biden has to get this across to voters in his speech tomorrow. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin points out that Biden doesn’t need to mention Trump or Republicans. He merely has to call on voters to reject politicians who encourage violence, refuse to accept election results, aim to make government dysfunctional, politicize criminal investigations, and interfere with and subvert the electoral process. It’s a list that pretty much sums up the Republican agenda.

Senator Lindsay Graham

News item: “If there’s a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham on Fox News, there will be “riots in the streets.”

Perhaps so. We know the thugs are out there. They were wellrepresented in the January 6, 2021, insurrection. What do these myriads of thugs think when they are told that there will be riots in the streets if Trump is prosecuted? They think that if Trump is prosecuted, they should riot in the streets. Undoubtedly some will — maybe a lot of them will — heeding what they take to be Graham’s bidding. What does this make Graham? It makes him a high ranking thug. That’s what this senator from South Carolina and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is, and all that he is.

Saving American Democracy: If only

If only the Democrats can hold the House of Representatives and pick up two or three senate seats in this November’s election and thereby have the 50 senate votes they need to eliminate (or modify as needed) the filibuster, they would be in a position to pass critically needed legislation (for example comprehensive voting rights protection and electoral process reforms) that are now blocked, and to expand the size of the Supreme Court and rebalance it so that it’s not controlled by right-wing ideology-driven extremists. If only that could happen, the transition of our country into an authoritarian state could be arrested.

Who Would Be a Worse President: Trump or DeSantis?

Some observers have speculated that it would be worse to have DeSantis as president than Trump. Like Trump, DeSantis is a morally bankrupt, semi-fascist, shameless, special interest-catering opportunist, who, if he became president, would cause immense damage to our country and shatter what remains of America’s pretense of being a pluralistic liberal democracy. Moreover, because DeSantis is young and capable, he could solidify and gain longterm control of our government. But, bad as DeSantis would be, Trump would be worse. DeSantis more likely than not would care about protecting our national security interests. Trump would be much more likely to blow up our country, or the world.

Trump’s Horde of Government Documents

No one seems to know why Trump wanted all those boxes of documents including some containing highly classified material, some of which was of the most sensitive nature. I don’t think he ever imagined that the DOJ would get a warrant and make a surprise search of his Mar-A-Lago palace. For Trump, retaining these documents probably symbolized retaining the presidency, as if he were a king in exile, comforting himself by standing in front of the mirror while wearing his crown. I’d be surprised if it turned out that he sold any vital secrets to Russia or Saudi Arabia, though that possibility can’t ruled out. More likely, he thought of the documents as an asset he controlled that he could liquidate in an emergency. He had possession of them, and they were too valuable to let go.

The Untied States: Drowning in a Sea of Dark Money

Headline: “Senate Dems brace for a red wave — of cash.” It’s not coming from grass-roots donors. As Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, and many others have pointed out, “the system” is rigged to benefit the rich. Recently, a right-wing billionaire contributed 1.6 billion dollars to a “social welfare organization,” a taxexempt entity that is supposed to be working for the common good, but is apparently a vehicle for anonymous donors to fund political campaigns and affect policy decisions.The basic problem, I guess, is that most billionaires got so rich in part because they wanted to get richer. Wanting to get richer is part of their pyschic makeup. And many of them calculate tnat it will help them get even richer if they fund (mostly) Republican politicians.

Philosophy in a Nutshell

I ran across a reference to philosopher Walter Kaufmann’s watchwords for how to live: love, courage, honesty and humbition. The last one of these is a combination of ambition and humility. This makes sense. Humility is like the control rod in a nuclear reactor. It’s how you maximize energy output without producing a blowup or meltdown.

Human Nature: Not That Great

I’ve been trying for a long time with little success to understand why of all but a tiny fraction of Republicans have failed to repudiate Trump — failed to render him irrelevant when it was so clearly the right thing to do — choosing instead to adopt, or at least tolerate, his depraved ethos. Why is it that such an overwhelming majority of them have so little moral fibre? So little self-respect? So little sense of decency? Unfortunately, natural selection doesn’t favor honorableness. Honesty, decency and good faith aren’t default human traits. That’s the world we live in, and the challenge for all people of good will.

The Trump Effect

You’ve probably read or heard about the increase in violence-inciting rhetoric from Trump and his emulators in the media and in public office. There’s not just the despicable Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen and sly and cynical intimations that this may have been the case. Trump and his emulators lie and threaten with abandon on any topic whenever it suits them to do so. For the astute legal analyst for Slate, Diana Lithwick, the incidence of this phenomenon is measurable “in cubic tons of my ‘die, bitch’ emails.”

I think that a lot of people have an underlying propensity to be bellicose, bully, and lash out, but they are normally inhibited from giving way to such impulses. Trump and his emulators in the media and in political office have systematically shattered such inhibitions. Trump is the antithesis of Lincoln. Instead of urging people to find the better angels of their nature, he summons the worst demons from within them.

Republicans’s Debt to Orwell

Republican seeking authoritarian control of the United States government have taken a leaf out of the model of totalitarianism described in Orwell’s novel 1984, in which the populace was instructed that “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.” Trump and his emulators (the majority of Republicans!) call: 1) accurate news reports “Fake News”; 2) conclusively authenticated elections “Stolen Elections”; 3) court authorized search warrants that meticulously adhere to the requirements of the Constitution “Fascism”; and 4) the law enforcement officers who conduct them the “Gestapo.” These are the people we’re up against in our efforts to save American democracy.

Wealth Inequality

Robert Reich is a master at marshaling statistics that demonstrate that we are living in a plutocracy, a system under which the rules are tilted in favor of the rich and powerful. For example, he reports that “the stock portfolios of the top 1% are now worth $23 trillion.” That figure, enormous as it is, doesn’t reflect other assets, such as vast amounts of real estate, held by the top 1%. Imagine what America would look like if our tax structure were such that half of that $23 trillion had been allocated for constructive purposes for the common good. The top 1% would still be extremely rich, but our country would be much the better for it.

”Mainstream” Republicans

Headline: “Mainstream Pennsylvania Republicans have united
around far-right gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.”

Mastriano, it should be noted, is not just far-right. He is a radical extremist authoritarian prepared to do anything he can to tilt elections to Republicans regardless of the will of the people of Pennsylvania. He is an unqualified Trump coup supporter.

Traditionally, mainstream Republicans revered and defended the rule of law. What this headline conveys is that there are now no more than a handful of Republicans who are mainstream in the traditional sense. With pitifully few exceptions,“mainstream” Republicans today are radical authoritarians.

Upside Down Thinking

Headline: “Florida court rules 16-year-old is not ‘sufficiently mature’ for abortion.” I presume the issue was whether the 16-year old had to get parental permission to have an abortion. The court should have ruled that the 16-year-old is not sufficiently mature for motherhood, and she doesn’t need anybody’s permission for an abortion. Instead, the court supplied us with a good example of upside down thinking, rooted in the ideology of the religious authoritarian types who control the Supreme Court and are a key constituency of the Republican Party.

Types of Republicans

In the light of recent Republican primary elections and other developments, I’ve revised my categorization of types of Republicans and present it here: Percentages are my rough estimates:

90% of Republicans

those in one or more of these four groups:

1) people who for various reasons want Republicans to be in power regardless of the damaging effects Republican control would have on democratic institutions and the rule of law;

2) people whose decision making is more strongly driven by one or more of the following overriding interests than by any interest they may have in preserving democratic institutions and the rule of law: Christian fundamentalist doctrine, white nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, gun culture, and hatred of government regulations and taxes;

2) people who would do whatever it takes to gain and maintain autocratic power, as long as they can make a pretense of following legal procedures;

4) people who would do whatever it takes to gain and maintain autocratic power, regardless of the law or any sense of human decency.

10% of Republicans

people who traditionally vote for Republicans, but care more about preserving American democracy than party loyalty.

Thoughts on Russia’s War on Ukraine

Almost six months have passed since Putin invadedUkraine. It is a war that Putin must not be allowed to win, but also one that he must not be forced to lose, because if he becomes convinced that he will lose, there is a serious risk that he will become insanely desperate. When Hitler committed suicide, he doubtless would have liked to take tens of millions of innocent people along with him. He didn’t have that capability, but Putin might. He might have a capability greater than Hitler ever dreamed of.

We need to provide enough assistance to Ukraine so that, the sooner the better, Putin understands that he can’t conquer any more of that beleaguered country, then we should press hard for a settlement, which includes face-saving concessions to the nuclear-armed monster, but provides that Ukraine and every other European nation will enjoy the full protection of NATO whether they are NATO members or notl Then, we must not rest. We must strengthen NATO’s military capability enough so that Putin understands that he must abandon his imperialist dreams.

Encouraging Developments

For those who have been following news developments closely and hope that American democracy will be preserved and strengthened rather than shoveled into the dust bin of history during the next few years, it’s bracing to read of developments that increase the probability that, rather than be proved to be “above the law,” Trump will be proved guilty of some of the crimes he almost certainly has committed.

Perhaps the most probable prosecution and conviction of Trump will ensue from the criminal investigation of the attempt to divert Georgia’s electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election from Biden to Trump, even though Biden won the popular vote in that state. The case appears to be a strong one for the prosecution, and not just on a single count. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin notes that
the “charges could include criminal solicitation to commit election fraud, interference with an official’s performance of his duties, conspiracy to commit election fraud, and violation of the state’s racketeering statute.”

Media Should Not Use Misleading Words

It once was not the case, but in present times, most elected or appointed Republicans are not “conservatives.” They are authoritarian radicals. And they don’t enact “strict voting laws.” They enact laws that implement voter suppression.

Prosecuting Trump

Some have argued that Trump should only be prosecuted for some of the crimes he appears to have committed. In an 0p-Ed in yesterday’s Washington Post, two law professors persuasively argue that, if there is to be selectivity in what charges to bring against him, the most serious of the crimes that he appears to have committed should be preferred for prosecution. I agree: illuminate his behavior in its most reprehensible forms. Better yet, he should be prosecuted for every crime without exception as to which prosecuting attorneys believe in good faith that they can prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Trump / Republicans / Bad Faith

I’d prefer not to write so often about Trump and the bad faith exhibited by Republicans, but American democracy is in peril, so the subject looms large in my mind.

News item in yesterday’s Washington Post: “One set of documents {among those removed by the FBI from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago headquarters pursuant to a search warrant sanctioned by a Federal magistrate} “is listed as ‘Various classified TS/SCI documents’, a reference to top secret/sensitive compartmented information, a highly classified category of government secrets, in addition to…four sets of top-secret papers.” 

This would be terribly embarrassing for Trump and the scores of prominent Republican politicians and right-wing media figures who had decried the FBI’s action, if they were capable of embarrassment, but they are not. This is everyday business for them: another in a long succession of occasions calling for them to follow their standard operating procedure for defending their allegiance to Trump: lie, feign outrage, and threaten revenge.

Divided We Stand

The cynical and mendacious reaction of Republican politicians and right-wing-minded pundits, as well as the entire array of right-wing media outlets, to the FBI search of Trump’s headquarters pursuant to a court authorized search warrant for probable evidence of a crime was entirely predictable. Forget about the rule of law and no man is above the law. Proto-fascists throughout the country have been screaming that the FBI is now the Gestapo and that Attorney General Garland should be impeached. It is bracing that Garland refused to be intimidated. He is being faithful to his oath of office, acting without “without fear or favor.” America is divided, not between comparable rival factions, but between people of good will and people who are duped or just plain bad.

Republicans Show Their Colors

By their cynical and mendacious high volume reaction to the F.B.I.’s search of Trump’s headquarters pursuant to a judicial warrant based on probable cause that evidence would be found of a federal crime, prominent Republicans have shown themselves to be practitioners of the fascist playbook: accuse proponents of democracy and the rule of law of crimes you or your leader have committed, demonize those who have exposed your malevolence, threaten violence, generate fear.

Water and the West

Prolonged extreme drought in Western States is evidenced by historic low levels in lakes serving as reservoirs. Yesterday, Sara and I decided to take a look at Lemon Lake and Reservoir, which was created by damming the Florida River (really a brook) about 15 miles north-east of where we live. We’ve experienced surprisingly frequent afternoon showers lately, and I wondered if the water level in Lemon Lake had risen. Contrary to my hopes, it was still distressingly low. The brook feeding the lake was running briskly, but so was its continuation downstream of the dam. Apparently, water is needed so badly downstream (in the Colorado River system), that little or no water flowing into Lemon Lake stays in it. Running on empty may be the best we’ll ever do.

Pity Republican Politicians

If you’re a Republican politician, you can’t just cater to one or two of the worst causes and groups in our society to win elections, particularly primary elections; you have to cater to all of them. You have to have the support of groups of people who believe that Americans should be run by white fundamentalist Christians; groups of people who oppose sensible gun regulations; groups of people who don’t think efforts to reduce pollution and slow climate change should get in the way of maximizing profits; groups of people who are racist, homophobic, or xenophobic; groups of people who are still in thrall to Trump, are drawn to right-wing spawned conspiracy theories, and have authoritarian ambitions; and groups of people who believe that having the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is the way America ought to be. Republicans running for office don’t mean to be despicable, they only are because they have to be to get enough votes to win.

War Policy and Climate Policy

The biggest problem with the West’s effort to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia is its dependence on Russian oil and gas. Largely because of the war, oil and gas prices have risen significantly. By paying higher prices for Putin’s oil and gas, the West, in effect, is rewarding Putin for starting a war and slaughtering innocent people as fast as he can. To reduce Putin’s income, countries opposing him should swiftly cut oil and gas consumption significantly and stimulate alternative energy use. Good war policy is good climate policy. Greed and indifference keep it from happening.

Trump and the Republican Party

According to the best sources I’m aware of, it is now certain the Justice Department’s criminal investigation includes the coup attempt as well as the January 6, 2021 insurrection. It now seems more likely than not that Trump will be prosecuted, with any luck in multiple jurisdictions and for multiple crimes. It would be a relief to see him removed from the political scene, but even if that happens, our country will remain in deep trouble. The Republican Party has been taken over by authoritarians, and they won’t slack off in trying to subject America to authoritarian control after Trump is gone. Trump may soon be seen to be a burden that they are eager to get rid of.

Reforming the Electoral Count Act

Congress’s most urgent task is to reform the Electoral Count Act, which sets forth procedures for tallying and certifying votes in presidential elections. The ECA is full of holes and vague and ambiguous clauses, yet it worked satisfactorily from its enactment in 1887 until 2020, when Trump and those aligned with him tried to take advantage of its flaws as a pretext for defying Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. In its amended form, the ECA must be air-tight. Republicans have shown that there is no limit on the perverseness of maneuvers they would make to pursue their authoritarian goals.

A Cause for Hope

Hope isn’t worth much unless there’s cause for it. There is this morning. Amidst all the troubles in the world, including the tightening of the grip of Trumpian types on the Republican Party evidenced in yesterday’s primary elections, bracing news came from Kansas, a solidly right-wing state. A sizable (and decisive) percentage of Kansans who voted for Trump in the 2020 election balked at having an important human right taken away and voted to preserve the abortion rights enshrined in the Kansas State Constitution.

The Times Are Out of Joint

Headline: “BP {British Petroleum} profits highest in 14 years as it rakes in $8.5B amid gas pump pinch”

Putin is raking it in too, his reward for committing mass murder every day of the week. Bad policy decisions by many world leaders have led us to this situation. Greed and lust for power and status are at the root of it.

Experiencing What’s in the News

Headline to Wshington Post Editorial This Morning: “Air travel is in chaos — and there are no easy solutions.”

One example proves nothing. Still, our AA flight was delayed so much Saturday that we had to switch to
the Sunday flight, which made our connecting flight, but the connecting plane wasn’t working right,
so it turned around and went back to the gate, and we had to take another plane for the same flight — three hour delay. This does seem to be the new normal and nothing to complain about since it doesn’t amount to a true “horror story.”

Speaking of things not working right, this word processing program produced ragged margins this morning.

On the Nature of Banana Republics

Traveling again, though more slowly than I’d planned.
Blame the weather and American Airlines, partners in
delay.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin once
again hits the nail on the head this morning, responding
to those who express fear that prosecuting a former president is
what banana republics do. She lays out the incontestable
facts and notes: “Only a ‘banana republic’ would give
the guy behind the coup attempt a get-out-of-jail card.”

A Slight Favorable Shifting in the Odds

It’s nice that Senator Manchin appears to be taking a break from being smug obstructionist long enough to permit probable passage of a moderately constructive bill dealing with energy policy, health care, and tax policy. The most important aspect of this development is that it probably slightly improves chances that Democrats will fare better in this November elections. Thus, it slightly iimproves chances that American democracy will survive longer.

A Column I Didn’t Need to Read

Opinion Headline: “Why I’m Protesting the Congressional Baseball Game.”

I saw this headline for an opinion piece and decided to read it later, but when I came back to it, it was no longer posted. Then it occurred to me that I already knew what it probably said: Every summer Republican and Democratic Congressional Representatives oppose each other in a baseball game. The main trouble with continuing this tradition is that it assumes that the two parties are the same as they used to be — differing in many policy positions, but collegial and mutually committed to American Democracy. Creating such an impression does a disservice to the public, because it ignores that the Republican Party has become the authoritarian party. Democrats should be publicizing that fact, rather than obscuring it.

What Republicans Should Think About

If you are a Republican, it might be well to consider that the Republican Party establishment and the great majority of Republicans running for office in this November’s elections have forsaken traditional Republican values and policy positions. They’ve cast their lot with the disgraced former president and shamelessly abetted his attempt to gain authoritarian power. In this endeavor they are courting gun safety opponents, White Christian nationalists, the resentful, the aggrieved, the tax dodgers, the polluters, the scam artists, and other components of the MAGA base.

This Blog

My blogs have been posting irregularly lately, partly because of
problems with the Word Press program I use and partly
because I’ve been overwhelmed with visiting family members.
I hope to resume posting blogs on a regular basis beginning tomorrow.
There’s no shortage of events to comment on.

A Model of Depravity

The hearing held yesterday by the Congressional Committee investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection — the last hearing until September — detailed far beyond a reasonable doubt how Trump refused for 187 minutes to make any effort to stop the mob terrorizing the Capitol. Trump is no ordinary dangerous criminal. He will live long in history as a model of a depravity. That it’s possible that he might again become president is a clear indication that the United States is a sick country.

Global Warming

Some decades ago, we were warned that global warming was happening and that we should initiate measures to slow it down. At some point, we were warned that we must initiate measures to slow it down within the next few years. More recently, we were warned that we must initiate measures to slow it down now. I haven’t heard anyone say that “now” has passed, but my impression is that we’ve gone from “must act soon” to “should have acted earlier.” Whenever most people think that there’s no hope — that conditions will get worse no matter what we do — there will be even less impetus to slow global warming. The extinction of the human species will be hastened.

Notes from the Bureau of Analysis of Dismaying Thoughts

Headline for a Segment of the PBS Newshour: “GOP’s Requirement for Candidates: Loyalty to Trump”

That’s the whole story. You don’t need to know any more. Trump is a dangerous sociopath who elicits revulsion from every unduped person of good will. That most Republicans adhere to him is possibly the most significant of the multiple tragedies playing out before our eyes.

Will Merrick Garland Wake Up?

It’s clear to anyone following the revelations issuing from the Congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection that if Attorney General Garland doesn’t indict Trump, it will amount to instituting a policy that a president of the United States is above the law. Trump once bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and get away with it. Can he get away with the even worse crimes he has committed? Garland occasionally stirs in his sleep. That’s a hopeful sign, but it’s not yet known whether or when he’ll wake up.

Mean-Spiritedness

Alluding to recent news stories, including one about the attorney general of Indiana threatening to prosecute a doctor who gave a ten-year-old rape victim an abortion, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin notes: “In denying women have any interest in protecting their bodily integrity and intimate decision-making, the right-wing Supreme Court set up millions of women, their families, and their doctors for abuse, disrespect and physical and mental harm.”

What motivates right-wing vigilante types to cause so much misery? I think it’s to satisfy their mean-spirited psychic needs.

Putin and Ukraine

No one who has wantonly murdered tens of thousands of people, including thousands of people in his own army, ever says to himself, “What I’ve done so far is acceptable, but it might be immoral to kill a hundred thousand more people and, even if that’s okay, it surely wouldn’t be right to kill more than a million people.” For that reason, Putin’s thinking seems to be that, even if his army can’t conquer the rest of Ukraine, he can find satisfaction in firing as many missiles as he has handy at every kind of target indefinitely until Ukraine and the West give up. Meanwhile, he can have his propagandists continually piously assert on Russian government-controlled TV, that he is teaching the Ukrainians and the West a lesson, and that the fascists who want to destroy Russia are being obliterated so that the Russian people will be saved from tyranny and return to the glorious days of Peter the Great.

If Only. . .

Referring to Republican politicians who have failed to repudiate Trump and to the latest revelations elicited by the Congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection, Washington Post columnist E. J.Dionne wrote, “Refusing to break with Trump now, forcefully and definitively, is to demonstrate a complete indifference to what the ethics of a constitutional republic and democracy require.”

If only every voter could become informed of that fact, American democracy would no longer be imperiled.

Chalk One Up for Humanity

Headline: “NASA’s new images represent humanity at its best.” This is the view of the Washington Post Editorial Board. It’s well said. The exceedingly complex array called the Webb telescope, positioned about a million miles from Earth, is fully commissioned and sending back pictures of unprecedented clarity and detail. More than 300 things could have gone wrong, anyone of which would have ruined the project, but none did. We’ll learn a lot more about the nature of the universe from the Webb.

A Strand of Totalitarianism is Woven into the Fabric of Our Society

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin: {The Supreme Court has decreed that} “from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.” 

“Right-thinking” Christian Doctrine

In a recent column in the New York Times, Katherine Stewart, an expert on Christian fundamentalism, discusses dominionism — “the belief that right-thinking ‘Christians’ have a biblically derived mandate to take control of all aspects of government and society.” If God is on your side, anything goes.

It’s a philosophical doctrine that’s inimical to a liberal, pluralistic, democratic society, but one to which a majority of Supreme Court justices appear to subscribe.

Air Pollution

Headline: “Air pollution kills ten million per year.” (That’s world-wide.) It degrades the health of billions. It fuzzes the landscape so much and so often that it’s a marvel when the horizon is sharply defined. Even if we weren’t experiencing the effects of global warming and living with the prospect of climate-change apocalypses, it should be a high priority of the nations of the world to reduce air pollution. It’s too bad that there is so much else to think about — so many other crises, so many more pressing concerns. It’s understandable: But one can see where humanity is heading. The horizon in that direction is quite sharply defined.

My Letter to the Editor of the Durango Herald, Colorado, published yesterday.

Boebert

I got a postcard in the mail urging me to vote for Lauren Boebert, who is running to retain her seat as the representative for Colorado’s 3rd C.D. Three reasons were given for voting for Boebert: that she is Pro-Freedom, Pro-Guns, and Pro-Constitution.

The trouble is:

Boebert would force a woman to complete a pregnancy and give birth against her will. That’s not Pro-freedom;

Boebert is is a slavish supporter of the former president, who fomented an insurrection and pressured government officials in an effort to remain in office by blocking the orderly transition of government and overturning the conclusively validated 2020 presidential election. That’s not Pro-Constitution.

Boebert is Pro-guns! But what does it mean to be “pro-guns”? It doesn’t mean being supportive of the Second Amendment, which is the law of the land and therefore not an issue to be debated. For Boebert, it means being mindlessly opposed to any sensible gun safety measures allowed by the Second Amendment that would likely reduce the incidence of mass shootings.

Boebert is honest about one of her three claims, but empty headed as to all of them. That’s more than enough reason to vote for her honorable and capable Democratic opponent, Adam Frisch.

Headline: Republicans against Democracy

As you may know, a few years ago, a case came before the Supreme Court which many thought of as an opportunity for the Court to hold that partisan gerrymanding, which can result in the controlling party in a state drawing boundaries of districts so that, for instance, in a state where only 43% of the population votes for candidates from one party, 57% of state’s Congressional districts, and state legislature districts end up being held by candidates of that party, resulting in control of the minority over the majority.

Republicans have proved to be more adept and aggressive than Democrats in employing gerrymandering to gain and retain control of state legislatures and achieve disproportionately large representation in Congress. Rather than banning this undemocratic practice, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision a few years ago, washed their hands of it. They said it would be too hard for them to deal with such a matter on the federal level: Let the states take care of it, they said: State courts can stop it, basing their rulings on bedrock principles in most state Constitutions.

Recently, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case which would turn on the validity of a cockamamie legal theory that supports the conclusion that state courts cannot rely on the authority of state constitutions to prevent state legislatures from taking whatever rankly partisan action they want to. Why would the Supreme Court take such a case unless they were ready to put their stamp of approval on this bizarre theory and proclaim it to be the law? If the five extreme right-wing justices who presently control he court issue such a ruling, they will confirm what already seems to be the case that, like most Republicans, they are against democracy. They are content to end it because their governing credo is to take and preserve power.

Trump is a Magnet for Sociopaths

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows and witness to some of Trump’s machinations on Jan 6, 2021, the day of the storming of the capitol, has been widely praised for her forthright testimony to the Congressional committee investigating the insurrection. Simply by being an honorable person, she has become a national hero. Not so in the case of Meadows himself, former deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and a score of other insiders who have refused to come forward and testify as to the events of that fateful day. How did it happen that it’s the occasion for a big news story and accolades when someone in Trump’s entourage acts honorably. The answer is that Trump is a magnet for sociopaths, who are drawn to him in such numbers and with such velocity, that they crowd out almost everyone else in his vicinity.

Thoughts for Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July! I decided to express that sentiment and save “Trump is a Magnet for Sociopaths” for another day.

Headline this morning: “Nearly every American has a foreboding that the country they love is losing its way.” I’m sure that’s true. Is there a remedy for it? Maybe some mix of good will, dedicated work, and time? Meanwhile, I suggest following the advice of my favorite car bumper sticker I’ve seen this year: “Just be nice.”

Why the Word “Conservative” Shouldn’t Be Associated with Republicans, Continued

A New York Times headline yesterday read: “Court’s term is the most conservative since 1931.” Why is the Times so obtuse? The word conservative is supposed to have something to do with conservation, with preserving things as they are. The Court did just the opposite on practically all fronts. They severely limited the E.P.A.’s ability to slow global warming and air and water pollution. They gave states more tools to restrict voting rights. They grossly limited women’s reproductive freedom. They struck down reasonable gun safety regulations. They tilted the playing field in favor of religious interests in ways contrary to the bedrock principle of separation of church and state. There’s nothing conservative about the five right-wing justices who control the Supreme Court. Every one of is a dangerous radical.

Why the Word “Conservative” Shouldn’t Be Associated with Republicans

July 2, 2022

The Republican Party is not the conservative party. How could it be when it supports the former president, who fomented an insurrection and pressured government officials in an effort to remain in office by blocking the orderly transition of government and overturning the conclusively validated 2020 presidential election; when it deprives women of reproductive freedom; when it insists that anyone should have rights to weapons of war; when it stops Congress from addressing climate change; when it works feverishly to subvert and repress voting rights, and this isn’t the end of the list of ways in which Republicans work to transition our country to longterm, one-party, authoritarian rule.

Global Warming and the Supreme Court

The right-wing majority-controlled Supreme Court has severely limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce regulations that would reduce pollution and carbon emissions and help slow global warming. It is no longer possible for the U.S. to be a leader among nations in arresting global warming, a goal that seems to be receding rapidly out of sight. Other huge producers of carbon emissions, like China, Russia, and Brazil, are ruled by sociopaths who have little or no interest in the future of humanity. The world is mostly run by people with the mindset of Louis XVth, who I believe it was who said, “Après moi, le déluge.” “Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice,” said Robert Frost in one of his poems. Looks like it will be fire. “After us, the fire,” says the Supreme Court, the baleful new voice of America.

I’m traveling for a few days and plan to resume this blog on Friday, July 1st.

What the Opinion overruling Roe v. Wade Reveals about the Character of the Right-Wing Justices

The opinion signed by a majority of Supreme Court justices in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization provides a window through which to view their psychic states. One can imagine honorable justices reaching a decision, which, though just, would work hardship on many people affected by it. Justices of this kind would express regret and explain how the decision was compelled by the law, perhaps recommending that the hardship could be minimized or removed by remedial legislation. The five justices signing the opinion in Dobbs are not honorable. This is evident not because the decision in Dobbs was egregiously wrong, which it was, but because, as Jennifer Rubin noted in a Washington Post column yesterday, the “opinion overturning the right to abortion drips with disdain for women’s concerns about personal autonomy and for the principle of stare decisis.”

Trump, The Supreme Court, and the Principle that “No One Is Above The Law.”

Trump and his supporters and emulators, a class of miscreants that includes most members of the Republican Party, have for some time been the biggest threat to American democracy, and it remains to be seen whether Trump’s gross criminality will go unpunished —- whether he will turn out to have been above the law, contrary to a bedrock principle of our democracy. It is now evident that the right-wing justices who control the Supreme Court constitute an almost equally grave threat to our democracy. They literally have the power to lift themselves above the law, since they are the ultimate arbiters as to what the law is, and they have shamefully exercised that power. Our present form of government has been dependent on members of the Court acting in good faith to uphold the law, particularly the Constitution of the United States, regardless of their political or personal inclinations. Now, it is the country’s great misfortune that a majority of the justices on the Court prefer to follow their deep-rooted psychic inclinations rather than be faithful to their duty to serve the nation. Our country is at risk of falling under the control of people who have lifted themselves above the law and are determined to stay there.

The Essential Qualities of Character of the Justices Who Overruled Roe V. Wade

Diana LIthwick, in Slate: “The people who suffer the most will be the poorest, the youngest, the sickest —- the people whose interests don’t even warrant acknowledgment by the majority opinion.”

Given their lack of concern for the misery and hardship they are inflicting on millions of women and families, it’s clear that the basis of the decision of the majority of justices of the Supreme Court to yank away the right of women to terminate their pregnancies isn’t to be found in the law, or even in their religious beliefs. It resides in their essential qualities of character: arrogance, resentfulness, and mean-spiritedness.

If Justice Prevails

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence who has watched the televised hearings conducted by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection would be aware by now that, if justice prevails, Trump will be indicted. Nixon was pardoned by his successor, President Ford. Nixon covered up a burglary, an insignificant crime compared to that of attempting to overthrow American democracy and put an autocrat in power. Pardoning Trump would be a foolish and cowardly act.

Republicans and the Republican Party, continued

A standout feature of Tuesday’s House Select Committee hearing Tuesday was the testimony of Rusty Bowers, the top Arizona Republican legislator who refused to participate in the scheme to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Although Bowers was, and remains, a right-wing Republican, he preferred to adhere to his oath of office than abet a coup by Trump and his allies.

Bowers, along with some other key witnesses who testified in the hearing, clearly fits in the group I identified in my previous blogs this week: People who “traditionally vote for Republican, but care more about preserving democratic institutions and the rule of law than about party loyalty,” a category that I think once comprised about 95% of Republicans, but has shrunk to about 5% of Republicans, placing American democracy in extreme peril.

Republicans and the Republican Party

My previous two blog entries, read together, are meant to make the point that during the past forty years or so, the Republican Party descended to a base moral plane. Lincoln appealed to the better angels of our nature. Trump appealed to the worst instincts of our nature. For many, these worst instincts had been mostly dormant, but, as we’ve learned, were all too easily summoned up.

Types of Republicans, circa 1980

(percentages are my approximate estimates):

5% of Republicans

proponents of doing whatever it takes to gain and maintain autocratic power, regardless of the law or any sense of human decency;

B. proponents of doing whatever it takes to gain and maintain autocratic power, as long as they can make a pretense of following legal procedures’;

C: people whose decision making is more strongly driven by a particular ideology, such as Christian fundamentalism, white nationalism, xenophobia; gun culture, and hatred of regulations and taxes than by any interest they may have in preserving democratic institutions and the rule of law.

D. Others who for various reasons want Republicans to be in power regardless of the effect of Republican control on democratic institutions the rule of law.

95% of Republicans

Those who traditionally vote for Republican, but care more about preserving democratic institutions and the rule of law than about party loyalty.

Types of Republicans, 2022

(Percentages are my rough estimates):

95% of Republicans

A. proponents of doing whatever it takes to gain and maintain autocratic power, regardless of the law or any sense of human decency;

B. proponents of doing whatever it takes to gain and maintain autocratic power, as long as they can make a pretense, however slight, of following legal procedures;

C: people whose decision making is more strongly driven by a particular ideology, such as Christian fundamentalism, white nationalism, xenophobia; gun culture, and hatred of regulations and taxes than by any interest they may have in preserving democratic institutions and the rule of law.

D. Others who for various reasons want Republicans to be in power regardless of the effect of Republican control on democratic institutions the rule of law.

5% of Republicans

Those who traditionally vote for Republican, but care more about preserving democratic institutions and the rule of law than about party loyalty.

Campaign Point

This morning, in another of her Washington Post columns that’s a model of clarity and incisiveness, Jennifer Rubin explained that, though it may be in doubt whether Trump can be proved guilty of crimes, it is “not controvertible is that {he} lost the election, lacked any proof of fraud, betrayed our democracy by attempting to overthrow the election results and sparked a violent assault on the Capitol.” It follows, that, in every political contest for every public office, the Republican candidate should be asked whether he or she supports Trump’s Big Lie and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Unless such candidate has a convincing answer, the point should be made, reiterated, emphasized, and pounded into public consciousness: this candidate is unfit to serve in public office.

Indictment and Conviction

I was pleased to see a clip of an interview with Attorney General Merrick Garland in which he said that he was watching all the committee hearings, either live or on tape. This increases the likelihood that Trump will be indicted, but a terrible truth hanging over our country is that it’s highly unlikely that Trump will be convicted of a crime. That would require, in any trial, twelve jurors agreeing to convict him. Since about one-third of the population consists of Trump supporters, and it’s their credo that defending Trump is more important than defending the rule of law, an average of four jurors out of every twelve are likely to vote to acquit Trump regardless of the applicable facts and law. The odds of any panel of jurors not including any Trump supporters are dismayingly small.

The Critical Issue in the Upcoming Elections

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne makes the incontrovertible point that Democrats must get across to the public that the preservation and strengthening of American Democracy is the most important issue in the upcoming elections. It would be a great tragedy if our country fell under autocratic rule because voters thought of their votes aa a protest against inflation.

Questions for Republican Candidates

Journalists, concerned citizens, and Democratic candidates should ask every Republican running for office:

Have you peddled or encouraged credence to the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen?

To those who answer Yes, ask A, below.
To those who answer No, ask B, below.
To those who dodge the question, ask C, below:

A. How do you justify being involved in trying to transform our country into an authoritarian state?

B. Why haven’t you repudiated Trump and everyone else who hasn’t called out Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election and those who have opposed or belttiled the investigation of the January 6, 2021, insurrection?

C. Why are you ducking the question instead of answering it forthrightly?

Headlines and Their Implications:

Headline: “More than 100 GOP primary winners back Trump’s false fraud claims.”

Headline: “Many GOP candidates intend to use public office to affect electoral outcomes.”

By clining to Trump, Republicans have descended to Trump’s moral plane. The Republican Party has become the authoritarian party. That is who they are.

One Step Closer To Indicting Trump

The House Select Committee to investigate the January 6, 2021, insurrection held its second televised hearing yesterday and conclusively established that Trump was unequivocally informed by his own advisors and confidants that he had no cause for challenging the 2020 presidential election. What about the “detached from reality” defense that Barr seemed to set up for Trump in his testimony — detached from reality equals no criminal intent? That won’t fly. As Jennifer Rubin writes in a Washington Post column this morning, “You do not get to arm-twist officials or send the mob to the Capitol because you really, really think you won.”

Gun Safety Regulations

Republicans oppose gun safety reforms because (i) a sizable percentage of their constituency are gun enthusiasts who are passionately opposed to any gun reforms, and (ii) a sizable amount of their campaign financing comes from the gun and ammo industry. Lately, public opinion so strongly favors gun safety reforms that it has made some Republican senators nervous. Ten of them have shown willingness to support some watered-down reforms and related measures. If they do, there would be enough votes to overcome the undemocratic filibuster rule. Remedial legislation might be enacted. Some say it would be a good first step. It would, though just a baby first step. It’s not as if the country is coming to its senses.

Trump as seen in 2016 and in 2022

Today, in another of her searing columns in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd distills the progression of our general understandung of Trump over the past six years. In 2016, he appeared to be “a bloviating buffoon who stumbled into the presidency.” Since then, he has been revealed to be “a callous monster.” It’s not the existence of a single abominable human being that is the great national tragedy, it’s the abominable adoption of his ethos by the vast majority of Republicans and large segments of the population.

The Limits of Fair and Balanced

Headline for a Washington Post headline of a column by Mark Theissen: “If Trump incited Jan. 6, what about Schumer’s threats against Kavanaugh?”

The Washington Post’s roster of columnists spans the political spectrum. This would seem to be fair and balanced — a good policy. But when most of the right-wing side of the political spectrum supports a former president who fomented an insurrection as part of an orchestrated attempt to overturn a presidential election and install an authoritarian government, columnists aligned with this cohort are bound to be intellectually dishonest and morally deficient.

Senate Majority Leader) Schumer spoke in anger, but he said nothing illegal, and no one, not even Marc Thiessen, imagines that Schumer intended to do anything illegal. The gap between Schumer’s rhetorical excess and Trump’s conduct is so vast that Thiessen’s resort to “Whataboutism” is no less pathetic than it is reprehensible, a scrap of garbage not fit to print.

The First Televised Hearing of the House Select Committee’s Investigation of the January 6, 2021, Insurrection.

I watched the hearing last night. It was powerful, gripping, and admirable in every way. It slightly raised my hopes that Trump will eventually be indicted and tried on multiple serious criminal charges. Ample evidence was provided of his corrupt intent. I have less hope that he will be convicted, because odds are that any jury will contain at least one Trumpian type (a person who, by definition, lacks any moral scruples) who would refuse to vote for conviction.

Moral; Immoral

Many issues are shades of gray. Some are black and white, right and wrong, moral and immoral. Yesterday, the House passed sweeping gun safety legislation. All but five Republicans voted against it. Because of the anti-democratic filibuster rule, at least 10 of the 50 Republican senators must vote in favor the legislation for it to pass. It has no chance of passing, because only 5 out of the 50 Republican senators will vote for it. 5 right, 45 wrong; 5 moral, 45 immoral. 90% of Republican senators are more interested in taking money from the gun lobby or preserving their political standing in the party than in reducing the rate of massacres in our distressed country. That’s why Jennifer Rubin’s first Washington Post column today is titled: “Republicans should see what an AR-15 does to a child’s body.”

The Televised Hearings That Begin Tomorrow.

The televised hearings conducted by the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6, 2021 insurrection begin Thursday. Let’s hope they garner a large audience and that the media responsibly cover them. If that happens, there’s a fairly good chance that a critical number of people will grasp that there was a multi-faceted conspiracy to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election, that the leaders of the conspiracy included many high-level Republicans, that there are grounds for criminal prosecution of many of them, and that, with few exceptions, nearly all Republican members of Congress were supportive of the Party’s efforts to undermine our democratic processes and are for that reason alone unfit to hold public office.

American Democracy Fighting for Its Life

Thursday, the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection begins a series of public hearings aired on prime-time TV. Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne rightly observes that the Committee’s task is “to demonstrate that day’s viciousness was not some spontaneous outbreak of mayhem but an organized, radical and dangerous assault on democracy itself.”

The fate of our democracy may turn on how effective the Committee is to awakening a large element of the public to the enormity of the concerted effort by powerful figures in the Republican Party and their media and big money-supplying allies to overturn the 2020 election and, when necessary, future elections, thereby subjecting our country to authoritarian rule.

The house is on fire. Some are sounding the alarm. A lot of people are denying it. A lot of people are brushing it off as “partisan bickering,” or “polarization,” or more of the “same old, same old.” Would that it were nothing more than that.

How to Deal with Putin

Headline: “Ukraine Rejects Macron’s Plea Not to Humiliate Russia”

The idea is that if Putin gets humiliated, he’s in danger of being overthrown, and to avoid that, he starts using nukes on the Ukrainians or otherwise recklessly escalates the war, thinking: That will snow them!

I share Macron’s concern, which is why I favor giving Putin an off ramp, though with this proviso: There will be no on ramp available to him in the future, and he will be disabused of any illusion that there might be one.

Some Problems We Face — An Incomplete List

the cultivation by malevolent power-holders of ignorance, cynicism, gun culture, white grievance, nihilism, resentment, anger, and apathy.

the conversion of the Republican Party into the Authoritarian Party

control of the Supreme Court by right-wing ideologues

gross income and wealth inequality and the trend toward oligarchy

gun massacres in the U.S. and inaction to lessen their frequency

Russian aggression and the war in Ukraine

global warming and environmental degradation

Chinese military buildup and indifference to human rights.

the world-wide trend away from democracy and toward authoritarianism

North Korea: a nuclear-armed Sparta

My Choice in the Primary Election

The incumbent Congressional Representative for my district, Lauren Boebert, is one of the most extreme MAGA (Trumpian) types in Congress. A more conventional Republican is challenging her in the primary this month, but is not expected to win. As a progressive Democrat, I have to decide which of two Democratic candidates to vote for in the primary, each of whom has strengths and weaknesses. Neither one is impressive — neither of them is making the point that democracy itself is on the ballot this year! No hint from either of them that the Republican Party has become the Authoritarian Party. Despite their failings, they are both vastly preferable to Boebert’s Republican challenger and infinitely preferable to Boebert. My vote in the primary contest will not be necessarily be for the candidate who would be the best person to represent our district, but for the one that would be most likely to win the general election. I have to make that judgment mowtly based on their respective websites. At the moment, it looks like a coin toss between the two of them. I have three weeks to decide.

Garland

Can Attorney General Merrick Garland awaken from his slumbers? He is a brilliant, capable, and honorable man, but he may have a psychic deficit: an aversion to conflict that, despite plenty of evidence in plain sight of probable cause of criminal intent, deters him from holding high-level Republicans accountable for their roles in fomenting or aiding in the January 6, 2021 insurrection and in trying to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. Garland should also be working overtime to defend our democracy against concerted Republican attempts to undermine and distort results in upcoming elections. Is he aware that we still have two predominant political parties, but that they are not the Democratic Party and the Republican Party; they are the Democratic Party and the Authoritarian Party.

The Republican Agenda:

Cultivating: ignorance, cynicism, gun culture, white grievance, nihilism, resentment, anger, and apathy

The Role and Duty of Journalists

Journalists have a high calling. They play a critical rule in an open society. For that reason, journalists and interviewers should ask rigorous questions and follow-up questions, and not let politicians get away with evading questions, using weasel words, changing the subject, or indulging in what-aboutism. Thus if a journalist or interviewer has six questions and the politician ducks question #3, the journalist should not proceed to question #4. Instead, the journalist should be prepared and able to ask question #3b, #3c, etc. until a responsive answer is obtained or the interviewee is exposed for what he or she is.

Sickness and Treatment

Maureen Dowd’s column in today’s New York Times, titled “America’s Human Sacrifices,” is one of the most powerful essays I’ve ever read. To summarize it would be to do it injustice. My own view of our country’s sickness is that it is suffering from a parasitical disease. It is being devoured from within. A purgative is desperately needed: voting every opponent of reasonable gun regulations out of office. Only if enough people can be roused to administer this lives-saving medicine can the patient’s recovery begin.

Republican Intransigence; Media Failure

Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin lamented how the media assumes that because it’s a “given” that the Republicans will oppose gun reform, there’s no point in talking about (criticizing) them.

Republicans take no heat, even though they should take maximum heat. Instead of talking about the shameful irresponsibility of Republicans in opposing gun reform, the media talks about the Democratic failure to reform the filibuster. If only the Democrats could get it together, we could have meaningful action on gun control and save lives! It’s as if Republicans aren’t the problem, even though they, plus one or two instransigent Democratic senators who refuse to vote to reform the fillibuster, are precisely the problem. It would be desirable if they weren’t, but that can only be achieved by voting them out of office.

Why can’t Senator Ted Cruz (R. Texas) perceive what a despicable person he is?

I watched a video clip of a reporter asking Ted Cruz why the United States is unable to do anything about stopping maniacs with automatic rifles from massacring school children. Cruz replied by saying how great America is and how people from all over the world want to come and live here, a non-responsive and dismissive answer. Then Cruz fled, rather being further exposed as the scoundrel he is. Cruz has a deep character flaw — he exists on the same moral plane as a hyena. It’s an indication of how sick our country is that he has been retained in office. The same is true of all politicians who
have blocked sensible and reasonable regulation of firearms.

Ending Russia’s War on Ukraine, Continued

After posting my blog yesterday, I read that President Zalensky said that any peace agreement would have to leave Ukraine free to join the European Union. I had that in mind in clause (d) of my provisos — “Ukraine’s unrestricted sovereignty.” My stated exception to that would be having Ukraine agree not to join NATO, but since it would also be stipulated that NATO would defend Ukraine as it would any member of NATO in the event of renewed aggression, this concession would not prejudice Ukraine’s security. Its function would be as a face-saving device for Putin. The key requirement of any settlement should be that it maximizes deterrence of further Russian aggression.

Ending Russia’s War on Ukraine

For a number of reasons, which I won’t attempt to itemize here, it would be highly desirable to end Russia’s war against Ukraine— the sooner the better. It’s up to Ukraine to decide what terms they would agree to, but Ukraine’s Western allies should have a strong voice in the matter — the assistance they have rightly been providing Ukraine has enabled Ukraine to withstand Russia’s assault and keep it from being totally conquered.

I would favor a settlement pursuant to which, among other provisions, Ukraine cedes to to Russia all territory now under Russian control and agrees not to join NATO, subject to Russia agreeing to and compliance with all of the following: a) immediate cessation of hostilities; b) immediate repatriation of all prisoners; c) renunciation of all further territorial claims with respect to Ukraine; d) recognition of Ukraine’s unrestricted sovereignty; e) renunciation of any objection to NATO’s pledge to come to Ukraine’s defense as if Ukraine were a member of NATO if it is attacked by Russia or any Russian surrogate; f) Sweden and Finland becoming members of NATO; g) all impediments to production and distribution of Ukraine’s agricultural and other output are removed; h) Russia renounces any further territorial ambitions against any European country, including, without limitation, Moldova and any member of NATO.

Fascism in Russia and the United States

Historian Timothy Snyder recently identified the hallmarks of Fascism. Russia is a fascist country. Among other indicia, it has a cult of the leader, Putin, and it has the myth of a past golden age of imperial greatness that must be restored through war and conquest. It helps Putin that he can claim that God is on his side. The patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church supports his messianic cause.

The United States is heading in the same direction. There’s the cult of Trump, the myth of White Christian Nationalism, bringing with it divine approval of Christian evangelical pastors, the cult of guns and militias, the righteous crusade to restore America’s golden age by stripping away the institutions of an ordered society, and the subordination of truth and honorable behavior to overriding ideology and greed.

American Democracy on the Ropes

Republicans are marching down the Trumpian path. A New York Times study determined that 44% of Republican legislators in nine states tried to undermine their state’s vote count in the 2020 presidential election. Only a decade ago, it would have seemed to me to be inconceivable, but now it’s a fact, that the Republican Party has become the authoritarian party. Most Republicans running for office are affirming Trump’s Big Lie that he won the 2020 election. It seems more likely than not that, by 2025, we will be subjected to autocratic rule.

Billionaires, Power, and Politics

Headline: “Oracle’s Larry Ellison joined Nov. 2020 call about contesting Trump’s loss.”

I didn’t read the article and I don’t know that facts involved in this particular case, but I know that a monumental problem this country has is that most of its 600 or more billionaires are aggressive, acquisitive types that are driven by hunger for power, money, and status. Too many of them are like Putin’s oligarchs, who are willing to tolerate and support an autocratic ruler to gain his favor. Money equals power. Opportunistic unprincipled billionaires have been getting more and more of both, and they have been financing politicians who, like them, have scant interest in preserving American democracy or in the common good.

Carolo Rovelli, continued

Yesterday I referred to a book of essays I’ve been reading by the distinguished Italian physicist Carolo Rovelli. That was because I wanted to report what Rovelli thought should be the top priorities for politicians in power. Now that I’m approaching the end of the book, I realize that I should say what the book is titled, especially since I think it’s very much worth reading. Rovelli is a great humanist as well as being a great scientist. The book, published this year, is titled There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important than Kindness.

Carlo Rovelli’s Concerns

I’ve been reading a collection of essays by the eminent Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli. He is a deep thinker culturally and philosophically, as well as scientifically. In an essay written in 2018, he lists four critical concerns: preventing wars from breaking out, protecting the environment, remediating gross income and wealth inequality, and reducing the risk of nuclear war. Given the trend of events since he wrote this essay, he may have added a fifth concern by now: protecting and strengthening democracy.

Democracy is on the Ballot in Pennsylvania

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne notes that democracy will be on the ballot this fall in Pennsylvania when the ultra Trumpian, coup- plotting, insurrectionist-supporting, Trump’s stolen election Big Lie spreader, Republican nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, faces state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee. In Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state. If Republicans control the governorship and the legislature, they can be counted upon to submit electors supporting the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 regardless of which candidate wins the popular vote. American democracy’s survival is unlikely unless Shapiro, for governor, and Fetterman, for U.S. Senate, prevail in this November’s election.

Churchill on War and Peace

About sixty-five years ago, I read Churchill’s six volume history of World War II. I admired what he called “The Moral of the Work”: “In War: Resolution; In Defeat: Defiance; In Victory: Magnanimity; In Peace: Goodwill.”

To this I would add, “In a Stalemate: Imagination.”

Ending Hunger in America

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dione praised Biden and legislators in both parties who plan to convene a conference the aim of which would be to figure out how to end hunger in America. It shouldn’t be hard. Just provide the money and set up the mechanism for enabling those who need food and can’t pay for it get it. Mr. Dione didn’t specify how much such a program would cost, but from everything I’ve read, I’m sure it could be financed by a very modest additional tax on people and corporations who clearly haven’t been taxed enough in the past. Everybody should feel better knowing they live in a country where no one goes hungry.

A Hopeful Thought for Putin

Headline: “List of GOP lawmakers against Ukraine aid is quickly
growing.” This news should lift Putin’s spirits. If Republicans win control of the Senate or the House this fall, U.S. support for Ukraine is quite likely to crumble, enhancing the chances that the war will play out to Putin’s liking.

War Profiteering

Senator Bernie Sanders: “21 oil and gas companies made over $41 billion in profits, more than double their profits from last year.”

There should be a windfall profits tax on companies making excess profits because of Russia’s war on Ukraine.There are much better ways to spend that extra money than to line the pockets of top executives and shareholders of such companies. Excess profits taxes, price controls, and rationing prevented runaway inflation during World War II. Much less stringent measures are needed in the present circumstances, but some are and excess profits taxes on war profiteers is one of them.

Alas, Congress is under assault from within its own ranks, and much that should be done doesn’t even come up for debate.

Quotes of the Week

“Putin’s authoritarian neofascism has rooted itself in America, in one of our major political parties.” Robert Reich

Concerning the mortal threat to American democracy posed by Republican politicians and their allies: “Panic is generally a bad idea, but sometimes it is warranted.” Washington Post opinion writer Max Boot

U.S. Policy with Respect to the Ukraine War

Headline: “The U.S. is expanding its goals in Ukraine. That’s dangerous.”

I didn’t take time to read this article. I didn’t need to. I’d already read an article making the same point by the estimable Washington Post opinion writer Katrina Van den Heuvel, and I’d already formed the same opinion independently. The heroic and impressively competent Ukrainian defense against the Russian invasion has been inspiring, and the U.S. has rightly come to Ukraine’s aid, but the Biden Administration must not let Ukraine’s success and Putin’s blundering go to its head. We must not sleepwalk into appropriating this conflict as a way to win a “safe” war with Russia. This is a time for humility and for creative thinking, not a time for trying to bring Russia to its knees. We should continue to support Ukraine, but we should take the initiative in trying to end the war. We still need to give Putin an off ramp. The alternative would likely be months more of death, suffering, and destruction in Ukraine or much worse.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev backed down because Kennedy agreed to remove guided missiles from Turkey. The missiles were obsolete, but this concession was sufficient to let Khrushchev save face and withdraw nuclear armed missiles from Cuba. Significantly, Kennedy told Khrushchev that he would have to keep it secret that he was giving up the missiles in Turkey or he would be pilloried by political opponents and by the media. In this way, Kennedy elevated the importance of his concession in Khrushchev’s mind. There are many differences between the Ukrainian War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but there are echoes of that episode that should not be ignored. Biden must make sure that he’s thinking like Kennedy and not like Dr. Strangelove.

Putin’s Happy Thought

Headline: “Putin prepared for ‘prolonged conflict’, U.S.
official warns.”

A bright spot for Putin is that chaos may ensue in the wake of the U.S. elections this fall, and that, by 2025, the U.S. may have transitioned into an authoritarian state. Authoritarian leaders have proven to be much more sympathetic to Putin’s cause than leaders committed to democracy and human rights. It’s comforting to Putin to know that an authoritarian leader of the U.S. would probably adhere to the principle that “We dictators should stick together.”

Something the U.S.Should Do

Headline: “What the U.S. should do about Tunisia sliding into authoritarianism”

Certainly, the U.S. should work to promote democracy and liberty throughout the world wherever possible. It will be much harder to do that if the U.S. itself transitions to authoritarian rule. The maxim “Physician, heal thyself,” applies.

The Essence of the Issue

Jennifer Rubin: “When the ‘crime’ takes place in a woman’s womb, the enforcement mechanism by necessity will be intrusive.’’

The Word “Woke”

Republicans are attacking Democrats by calling them “woke.” Never mind that “woke” entered public discourse as a term meaning awake and aware of injustices that plague our country. Republicans throw “woke” around as if being woke is a menace to our society, something so reprehensible that American freedom and liberty will be lost if people who are “woke” have their way. Tactics like this are all that Republicans have in their bag of tricks. Most Republican politicians and their media allies are opposed to truth, fairness, and decency, which they treat as impediments to their efforts to transition our democracy to one-party authoritarian rule. I wish more voters got woke to what Republicans are about.

Notes from Surreal Land

Headline: “Republican governor of Texas says schools should stop educating undocumented children.”

This was the policy of slaveowners: Keep them illiterate: they will be less trouble that way.

Robert Reich’s Facebook Posting on Abortions:

“It’s impossible to ban abortions. It’s only possible to ban safe abortions.”

I don’t think that’s quite accurate, Mr. Reich. It isn’t possible to ban safe abortions for women who are rich enough and informed enough to travel to a more enlightened jurisdiction where they can obtain competent medical services.

The Supreme Court justices voting to overrule Roe v. Wade shouldn’t feel too bad about that limitation in the reach of their authority. They will have at least succeeded in banning safe abortions for millions of poor women, an act for which they will be long remembered in history.

The State of the Supreme Court

Recall the epigram, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The five right-wing extremist justices on the Supreme Court control the Court.
The law is what these five people say it is. No one can challenge them. Their power is absolute, and they are absolutely corrupt.

The Underlying Rationale of the Judicial Philosophy of Justice Samuel Alito and His Allies on the Supreme Court

Reading excerpts from the leaked draft opinion of Justice Alito in which he holds that Roe v. Wade must be overruled gives the impression that Alito and his fellow extremist right-wing justices are, above all else, ideologues: Their judicial decisions adhere to their ideology rather than to the law, though of course they cloak their opinions in legal parlance.

From what I know about these justices, the common ideology that governs their decision making attracted them because it serves as an organizing principle for their feelings of resentment, contempt, and superiority, for the pleasure they take in flaunting their power, and for self-justification of their stark lack of concern for the injury they inflict on others.

The Alarming State of the Nation’s Health: A Report from Bedside

From a recent column by New York Times opinion writer Michelle Goldberg: “a country that could elect Trump is sick by definition.”

There’s no question that a country that could elect Trump president is sick. To this it should be added that a country that failed to remove Trump from office after he was first impeached is very sick, and a country where there is a danger that Trump might again become president is gravely ill. Our country has other very serious diseases and afflictions as well. We have some outstanding medical personnel doing the best they can to save the patient, but the odds of success don’t look good.

A Simple Truth That Voters Need To Know

Those who fail to repudiate Trump — the vast majority of Republican politicians — are cowardly sycophants driven by unbridled ambition. This is a simple truth that people of good will must get across to a solid majority of voters if American democracy is to survive.

Democracy Versus Despotism

Russia, ruled by a vicious despotic monster, has been trying to conquer its neighbor, Ukraine. Many democracies, particularly the NATO countries, have been providing vital assistance to Ukraine in its heroic efforts to resist Russia’s assault. Sadly, the leaders of some of the largest and most influential democracies — most notably India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico — have washed their hands of the whole business, a bad sign in the ongoing struggle that grips the world. The United States itself is undergoing an internal struggle between democracy and nascent despotism. The next few years may bring a tipping of the scales.

Headline: Brazil is burning down the Amazon so you can eat steak.

Can you imagine someone running for Congress and saying that meat should be taxed, and the revenues applied to alleviating hunger and developing renewable energy sources? Of course not. Yet this would be sensible policy. We live in a culture and political milieu in which many good policies have no chance of entering public discourse, much less being implemented.

Unfathomable

There’s so much that’s unfathomable these days. I’m talking about conditions or situations that are so weird, so counterproductive, or so inane that it doesn’t seem that there could possibly be an explanation for why they exist or are happening. For example, the United States Postal Service, headed by a rich Trump donor who unfathomably hasn’t been fired yet, needs a new fleet of delivery trucks and apparently has contracted to spend as much as $11.3 billion on gas-powered vehicles that get 8.6 mpg even though the USPS is perfectly suited to using a fleet of electric trucks — they could be recharged every night during off-peak electric-usage hours. It’s unfathomable how such a patently wrong-headed major decision could be made.

An Interesting Ohio Primary Contest

Two men square off Tuesday in the Ohio Republican Senate primary. One is an unprincipled, flat-out, right-wing authoritarian who had been conspicuously critical of Trump, but decided to become subservient to him so he could get his endorsement. His opponent has all the traditional conservative policy credentials, but he is unwilling to go along with the Party’s Big Lie that Biden stole the 2020 presidential election, repudiates the blatantly anti-democratic practices that have become standard behavior for Republican politicians, and believes that Republicans as well as Democrats should respect and be bound by the rule of law. It will be interesting to see which candidate the Republican primary voters in Ohio choose to nominate. Is it realistic to hope that it will be the honest decent man rather than the proto-fascist thug?

The Grievance Machine

Chris Hayes, on his MSNBC news and opinion show “All In,” last evening, laid out how Republican politicians and their right-wing propagandistic media allies not only continue to promote the Big Lie that Biden stole the 2020 presidential election, they also promote the fantastical myth that the Democrats, socialists, coastal elites, closet communists, conspirators, and perverts that control governments and many corporations are, among other offenses, trying to take away our freedom — trying to replace real America with immigrants and minorities, trying to fleece the treasury, trying to destroy religious freedom, and trying to corrupt and brainwash our children, and that they are committing widespread voter fraud with the aim of rigging elections in their favor.

These Republican politicians and their right-wing propagandistic media allies cry, they whine, they shriek, they shake their heads with mock dismay, as they try to convince voters that it will take Republican control to save America from a mortal threat to America led by president Biden, who is sytematically ruining our country, taking it fartherr down the road to perdition every day. Hayes played some clips of deeply cynical, meretricious, contemptible performances by Fox News hosts and others. He calls them, collectively, “The Grievance Machine.” They are are a pox on the land, and they may bring American democracy down.

Musk and Twitter

Headline: “Elon Musk, world’s richest man, to buy Twitter for 44 billion dollars.” This reminds me of an old adage: “You can tell the men from the boys by the price of their toys.” Some toy. Will Musk use it for the common good or in service of his business or political agenda and to increase his political power?

Unfortunately, people who make a fantastic amount of money or parlay their family fortune into monumental wealth, tend to have inflated self-regard and overriding self-interest and lose perspective about how they should be directing their lives. Most of them seem addicted to money and power. Contrast Jeff Bezos, for example, with his space ship ventures, 500 million dollar yacht under construction, and reported mansion with 25 bathrooms with his ex-wife Mackenzie Scott, an accidental multi-billionaire, who is systematically and responsibly giving the bulk of her fortune to good causes.

I don’t know whether Musk’s ownership of Twitter will be good for the world or bad for the world, but I’m not optimistic.

A Fleeting Uplift

I felt a little uplift from the news yesterday. Macon’s solid win over the far-right extremist Marine Le Pen in the French elections was heartening. Democracy withstood a formidable assault. NATO and the European Union withstood a formidable assault. Another cheerful bit was the report of Secretary of State Blinken’s and Secretary of Defense Austin’s visit to Kiev to meet with President Zelensky. Biden has not flinched in the face of Putin’s fist-shaking. The U.S. has stepped up delivery of weapons and humanitarian aid as well. My uplifted mood lasted until I watched an evening news show featuring the Democratic attorney general of Michigan, who left no doubt that American democracy is on the edge of a cliff and that powerful people are pushing hard to shove it over.

A Sign of Our Troubled Times

Headline: “One of the biggest political races this fall is for the AG of Michigan.” How could that be? In each state, the attorney general’s job is to see that the laws governing that state are properly executed and enforced. Competence in carrying out that task should be the governing criterion in an AG race. This headline suggests that something else is at stake in the Michigan AG race. Judging by what happened in Michigan in the wake of the 2020 election, I suspect that one of the candidates is aligned with the politicians and voters who worked so feverishly to discredit Biden’s win of Michigan’s popular vote in that election and tried to have that state’s electoral votes cast for Trump.

The Unholy Alliance

Those who are in positions of power in the Republican Party have one overriding principle, which is to gain and hold power. In pursuit of that aim, they appeal to various groups, members of which have a particular overriding principle, for example:

Cutting taxes ond providing tax loopholes for high income and rich people;
Cutting out government regulations that bother them;
“Taking back America”: transforming it from a liberal pluralistic society to a white-dominated one that institutes “Christian” values;
Belief that a “strong” authoritarian leader would make America a stronger, richer country;
Belief that measures to combat climate change are a form of tyranny;
Belief that gun safety regulations are alien to a free society;
Belief that people in lower income categories get too many handouts, which amount to work disincentives;
Belief that coastal elite types are screwing real Americans.

Convince the members of each of these groups that you are fighting for their special rights and interests, and you can put together a winning coalition. The Republican Party is an unholy alliance but an effective one.

What Getting Real Would Mean

Getting real would be admitting to ourselves that we’re in an epochal confrontation with Putin. There’s been nothing like it since our confrontation with Axis powers in World War II. Then we had gas rationing, price controls, windfall profits taxes, and a more progressive tax system to ward off destructive inflation and concentrate on defeating the enemy. We should adopt policies that reflect the magnitude of our present challenge. We could to a large degree supplant Russia as the biggest supplier of fossil fuels to Europe and reduce air pollution in the U.S. at the same time.

How Dead Democracy Might Look

It might have the same Constitution we have now, the same three branches of government, the same “checks and balances,” the same Bill of Rights. Everything might look the same on paper, but it would function as prescribed in the authoritarian playbook. This has happened not just in Russia and China, but in countries like Brazil and Hungary. It will happen in France if right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen wins the election this weekend. It will happen in the United States if Trump, or someone out of the same mold, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, becomes president in January 2025. In a dead democracy, as Jennifer Rubin writes, democracy can be reduced to “an empty formality without the institutions and values to protect dissent, pluralism and basic human rights.”

The Media’s Duty

If, during the next two or three years, the United States of America transitions from a flawed democracy to a plutocrat-friendly autocracy, much of the blame can rightly be laid on the media. The overriding problem facing our country is that most Republicans have chosen to pursue an authoritarian agenda to gain and hold power permanently. Yet, as Jennifer Rubin pointed out in a powerful Washington Post column yesterday, “Republicans who appear for TV interviews are rarely — if ever — asked basic questions about the ongoing threat to our democracy.” She lists many questions that interviewers should ask Republican politicians, as to which they should be made to answer and not let off the hook.

American democracy can’t survive if a clear majority of voters don’t understand that Republicans have proven themselves willing to abandon truth, justice, fairness, and basic decency in their effort to turn our country into an authoritarian state. Members of the media have a sacred duty not just to report what politicians and their backers say, but to root out truth. The Washington Post’s motto is “Democracy dies in darkness.” The media, generally, needs to provide much better lighting.

History in the Making

What follows is a rewording of a blog I posted in February that’s lodged in my mind and I think worth repeating. What about the “arc of history” and talk about “the right side of history”? Neither exists. That’s not cause for despair. If the arc of history bends in the right direction, it will be because enough good people made it happen.

History in the making seems to be a matter of lulls and big events, with undercurrents flowing all the time. In some ways it’s like geology, where forces are at work all the time but are not noticeable except to experts who are aware of stresses building up that at some point will result in a devastating earthquake or volcanic eruption. In recent years, big events have been occurring at an unusual rate, e.g. the election of a sociopathic aspiring autocrat as president of the United States in 2016; the failure of the Republican Party and the great majority of Republicans to repudiate him and hold him accountable, choosing instead to adopt his depraved moral ethos as their own; the rise of authoritarianism and brutalism and weakening of democratic institutions throughout the world; the stark failure of humanity to combat global warming; the transition of the Supreme Court of the United States into an instrument for implementing an extreme right-wing agenda; the Covid pandemic and threat of future ones; the rise of an imperially minded regime in China and rapid militarization of that country; and the shedding of inhibitions on the part of a depraved Russian dictator of Napoleonic bent, resulting in an ongoing horrifying amount of death and suffering and the peril-generating resumption of the Cold War.

The Goodhearted and the Scrooges

Ezra Klein wrote a moving piece in yesterday’s New York Times titled “America turned its back on the poorest families.” It was about the brief life of the expanded child tax credit of $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under age 6 that lifted 3.4 million children above the poverty line for a while. As Klein and many others have pointed out, the credit didn’t just have the virtue of relieving hunger and misery, it greatly increased the chances that millions of children become functioning members of society rather than a burden on society in later life. A problem for those wanting to extend the credit was that financing it would have required scaling back some tax cuts and tax breaks favoring the rich and especially the super rich, a course of action that is anathema to Republicans. The scrooges in the Senate outnumbered the good-hearted, so the bill extending it was voted down.

Prosecuting Trump, continued

A good side-effect of prosecuting Trump and exposing his gross criminality is that it will deepen the rift between Republicans with some sense of honor and decency and those who are so besotted with Trump and so vulnerable to authoritarian propaganda that they can’t tell truth from falsehood and right from wrong even when which is which is clear as day from night.

Prosecuting Trump

There’s a strain of thought, which some fear infects Attorney General Merrick Garland, that a criminal prosecution of Trump would dangerously escalate polarization and divisiveness and invite retributive, banana republic-style actions against Democratic leaders if, as seems highly possible, Republicans regain power in 2024. I agree with those who believe that shying away from prosecuting Trump would be a possibly fatal mistake. I think that the best hope for this country is to shine the brightest light possible on the criminality of Trump and his allies and the threat they pose to American democracy. The House Select Committee, which has been investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection, appears to be of the same mind.

Religion and Public Schools

Right-wing extremist Republicans appear to be on the threshold of gaining control of Congress. They already comprise a solid majority of Supreme Court Justices. Their agenda includes interpreting the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion to give freedom to public school educators to inculcate children with their brand of Christianity. They ignore that freedom of religion is meant to include freedom from religion.

Special note to the person who wrote me in the past day or so referring to my essay “The View from Ninety”: I glanced at your email. It looked interesting, and I meant to read it when I had time, but it somehow disappeared from my in box. Perhaps I deleted it by mistake. In any case, thanks for writing and feel free to send it again, if you’d like.

The War

Like many others, I thought that Putin would have all but conquered Ukraine and installed a puppet government in Kiev within the first week, maybe within the first days, of the war. Even President Zelensky said (I think it was on the first day of the war), “I may not be alive tomorrow.” So where are we now? Putin is the epitome of evil. Ukraine is a nation of heroes.

The world is embroiled in a war between democracy and authoritarianism. If Putin thinks he can behave this way and get away with it — well, to quote John Donne, “Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Goodness Versus the Authoritarians

There seems to be a dangerously low level of appreciation in this country that, with very few exceptions, the Republican Party has become the authoritarian party. If Republicans gain control of Congress in this November’s elections, American democracy will fade away. If that sounds like an extremist prediction, consider that 121 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted against certifying President Biden’s election and 70% of Republicans believe or claim to believe Trump’s big lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and there’s a lot more to be said about the Republican’s assault on democracy besides that.

We’re living in a time of extreme peril to American democracy, but most Democratcs and members of the media are sleepwalking through it. My Congressional district representative, Lauren Boebert, is one of the most extreme right-wing, MAGA cultist, and it’s fair to say, absolutely whacko, members of Congress; yet from the website of Sol Sandoval, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to oppose Boebert, one would think we’re living in ordinary times. Sandoval’s website reveals that she has worthy views on “education,” “jobs and economic opportunities,” “wildfires and preservation,” “healthcare,” and “immigration.” She’s silent on everything else. Sandoval is evidently a good person. I’m a big advocate of goodness, but it’s not enough.

Tax Structure, Continued

There are roughly 750 U.S. billionaires. Robert Reich points out that the aggregate wealth of U.S. billionaires is $4,600,000,000,000. If under a sensible tax system, half of that wealth had been taxed, the average such person would still be worth over six billion dollars and none of them would be worth less than 500 million dollars, so they would all still be quite well off, and the U.S. would have 2.3 trillion dollars to apply for the common good. Plutocracies and oligarchies are not the best way to organize and maintain a healthy society.

The Naysayers

All fifty Democratic senators and three Republican senators —Murkowski, Collins, and Romney — voted to confirm Biden’s superbly qualified nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the Supreme Court. Forty-seven Republican senators voted against her, thereby establishing, or having previously established, confirmed, that they were nihilists, cynics, miscreants, schmucks, or some combination thereof.

Future Headline You Can See Today

Headline: “Record heat to bake Calif. as April snowpack nears 70-year low.” Reading this tells us that there is a high probability that some months from now we can see a headline stating something like: “Record wildfires ravage California this year.”

The Maddening Fact

Putin is proving himself to be one of the most monstrous criminals in human history, yet the civilized world is obliged to exercise restraint in dealing with him because he apparently has the power to destroy most of the civilized world.

Some experts have noted that Putin is not suicidal, but because we’re speaking of a psychopath, there must be added to that observation, “so far.”

The Overriding Issue

Robert Reich on what the mid-term and 2024 elections are about: “It’s not Left versus Right, Democrat versus Republican.
It’s about democracy versus authoritarianism.”

Can Democrats get that across to the electorate by November?

Snow Pack and Climate Change

Headline: “California’s snowpack is now at 39 percent of average, or 23 percent lower than at the same point last year.” In my snowpack region, the San Juan Basin, in southwestern Colorado, snowpack reached peak two weeks earlier than the median date of peak — March 31. Such figures have little impact on public consciousness now, but it’s likely that their consequences will be manifest this summer, with water shortages and worse than average fires. If only there weren’t so many other very serious problems in the world, slowing climate change would be the top priority in every country. As it is, we’re losing ground.

The Emotional State of Teenagers

Headline: The Centers for Control and Prevention warns that
more than 40% of teenagers report feeling “persistently sad or
hopeless.”

This evidences that something is seriously wrong with our society. Congress should establish a commission to investigate the matter and make recommendations. If Congress is too dysfunctional to do so, some billionaire or a foundation should do so. If the problem is ignored, that will be further evidence that something is seriously wrong with our society. A big question is: How do you cultivate in young people a state of mind that produces cheerfulness and hopefulness?

Notes from Surreal Land

Headline: “Hackers hit popular video game, stealing more than $600 million in cryptocurrency.” The 600 million cryptobucks come from the pockets of players of the video game. They thought they were spending their crypto dollars to acquire virtual beasts that could act on their behalf in battles. Apparently, by upping their investments, they could breed these virtual beasts and generate more of them, increasing their forces and improving their chances of victorious combat. Lots of cryptobucks were spent in this enterprise. A bright spot is that, as far as I know, players still have the beasts they bought.

Should Trump Be Criminally Prosecuted? Opposing Considerations

I have a knowledgeable friend who believes that it would be unwise to prosecute Trump, because it might initiate a pattern in which each new president feels free to prosecute whomever he succeeds, a classic feature of banana republics. If the Justice Department in the Biden administration prosecutes Trump, it would indeed raise an outcry on the part of MAGA-type Republicans and propagandistic right-wing media personalities and increase the chances that, if the Republicans regain power, they will push for revenge prosecution of Biden. The trouble with my friend’s argument is that these considerations pale in comparison to the the principle that no person, even a president or former president of the United States, especially a president or former president of the United States, is above the law.

A Judge’s Finding and Garland’s Duty, continued

Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin cited the opinion of constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe that “there is no honorable way for [Attorney General] Merrick Garland to avoid pursuing the path Judge Carter {the judge referred to in my blog yesterday} has not only clearly marked but blazingly illuminated.” What a breath of fresh air it would be if Trump is indicted, and if he is convicted for a grievous crime, it might signal American democracy’s release from the intensive care unit.

A Judge’s Finding and Garland’s Duty

A federal District Court judge has ruled that Trump’s lawyer, John Eastman, must provide documents to the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. The basis for the judge’s ruling was that Trump and Eastman likely committed alleged crimes. The facts and the law support investigating and indicting Trump and Eastman. It’s Attorney General Merrick Garland’s duty to pursue the matter.

The Gray, the Good, and the Bad

Between the good and the bad there’s an enormous gray area. Sometimes an event is all gray. In the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week, the good and the bad stood out in high relief. The good comprised Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and her eloquent and moving supporter, Senator Cory Booker. The bad comprised, principally, Republican senators Lindsay Graham, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz, each of whom misbehaved in the extreme in directing a fusillade of histrionic, irrelevant, cynical, mean-spirited, obfuscating questions and observations at the nominee, which none of these men appeared to realize accomplished nothing other than to demonstrate the unfitness of each of them to hold public office.

History in the Making

Observing the course of events since Putin initiated his attempt to conquer Ukraine feels like being in a hurricane that is causing tremendous damage, though it has yet to make landfall. At this point, Cold War II has reached an intensity not seen since the Berlin airlift in Cold War I.

Animal Cruelty

Headline: “Most animal cruelty is legal on a farm.”

Everyone knows that animal cruelty is bad. But in many instances it’s legal if conducted in the process of producing food for human consumption. Until that’s no longer the case, we can not assume that we’re living in an enlightened society. From the standpoint of many animals, most humans are no better we think Putin is.

Helping Ukraine: Gas and Oil Policy

Putin’s campaign of bringing massive death and destruction upon Ukraine is a crisis of utmost gravity. The United States needs to help reduce Europe’s oil and gas dependency on Russia. We should reduce domestic oil and gas usage in order to have a surplus to supply Europe, lessening Europe’s dependance on Russia. Conversation, a carbon tax, and a windfall profits taxes on fossil fuel companies should be instituted immediately.

Hypocrisy in the Extreme

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In a Washington Post column yesterday, Jennifer Rubin cited a recent Post headline — “More than two dozen Senate Republicans demand Biden do more for Ukraine after voting against $13.6 billion for Ukraine.” Here you have a revealing portrait of Republican hypocrisy exhibited even when national security is at stake: Undermine Biden; then claim that he’s not doing enough. Whatever he does, it’s wrong, even if it’s what they would do themselves.

With a handful of exceptions, Republican senators refused to convict Trump after he tried to get Ukraine President Zelensky to do him a political “favor” as a condition of providing Congressionally authorized military aid. These people now say that Biden hasn’t done enough.

Sometimes One Sentence Says a Lot

Senator Bernie Sanders: “This is what oligarchy looks like: Today, the 10 richest people in the world own more wealth than the bottom 37% — 3.1 billion people.”

The Breadbasket

Ukraine has long been one of the biggest producers of food, especially grain. Putin no longer can expect Ukraine to be united with mother Russia. What’s left of Ukraine when he’s through bombing and shelling it can never be more than a thorn in his side. But once enough Ukrainians are dead, disabled, or have fled to the West, even though he can’t annex the country, he may be able to annex its farmland — its breadbasket.

Thinking about Putin’s Off Ramp

If I recall correctly, during the Vietnam War, Senator Aiken, of Vermont, suggested that we pull out of Vietnam and say we won. There’s a lesson for Putin. As just about everyone agrees, Putin can’t afford to lose his war with Ukraine. He needs an off ramp, and it has to include his “winning the war.” This suggests to me a possible settlement, which provides for (i) an immediate and permanent cease-fire; (ii) an immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine; (iii) Putin keeps Crimea and portions of the two eastern provinces that were not under full Ukrainian control before Russia’s “special military action”; (iv) it’s agreed that any “Nazis” in Ukraine who were threatening Russia have been eliminated; (v) Western government sanctions are lifted; (vi) Ukraine and Russia sign a permanent non-aggression pact; (vii) Ukraine membership in NATO is banned, but it is understood that NATO will fully protect Ukraine, as if Ukraine were a member, in the event it is attacked again.

Putin can claim that Russia won the war: It achieved its objective in protecting Russian interests in Ukraine and in teaching Ukraine a lesson, thereby ensuring that Ukraine will never threaten Russia’s sovereignty again.

Not part of the settlement, but not foreclosed by it, and with or without support of Russia, Western nations must provide massive relief and rehabilitation for Ukraine, including its military forces, Putin remains an international pariah, subject to war crimes prosecution for life, and the truth seeps into the consciousness of most Russians that that Putin’s aggression was a monstrous contemptible act that weakened and disgraced Russia, and that his war was not a win for a Russia, but a shameful loss.

My Favorite Charity

My favorite charity is the Nuclear Threat Initiative. This non-profit organization sent me a rundown on what their goals are and what they have been doing. I’ll just mention the first of them here: “Take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert. Decision-makers in the U.S. and Russia currently only have a few minutes to decide if a possible nuclear attack is real and whether to retaliate. NTI has called on both sides to work with their militaries to increase decision time and continues to work with members of Congress and the executive branch to make this happen in the U.S.” 

Nothing is more important.

What Next? Speculative Thoughts

Putin expected Ukraine to reject Western liberalism and nestle docilely within the Russian orbit. There is zero chance of that happening now, because, after the unrelenting death and destruction he has inflicted upon them, Ukrainians are almost unanimous in their hatred of him and in their unwillingness to accede to his demands.

Putin’s immediate goal is to break Ukraine’s back and its will and seize control of the country. If he succeeds, it will take him awhile to regroup and decide what steps to take next in his campaign to restore the glorious Russian Empire of his imagination. The world will settle into Cold War II. If Putin fails to gain control of Ukraine, or he gains control, but Russian forces suffer prolonged attrition in continuing battles and guerrilla warfare in the rubble of Ukraine’s cities, and, despite not having access to anything but state-sponsored propaganda, ordinary Russians begin to perceive that Putin has grossly miscalculated, he may escalate the war out of desperation and fear of being humiliated, for example, as Russian-American expert Masha Gessen speculates is possible, by launching nuclear-armed missiles on airbases in Poland, forcing NATO to respond, initiating a widening of the war, a desirable development as far as Putin is concerned, because it would be congenial with his propaganda line that he is leading Russia in a heroic defense against Western powers that are trying to destroy it.

Evil and Good

Did you see the news clip yesterday of Marina Ovsyannikova, the Russian TV producer who, in a stunning act of bravery, inserted herself on camera in a state-sponsored prime time “news” (propaganda) show and, with dignity and professional demeanor, decry the war and cruelty Putin has been inflicting on the Ukrainian people and the lies fed to the Russian people about it? She was, of course, “detained.” As a result of a new law, Russians can be sentenced to fifteen years in prison for saying that the war is a war, rather than a “special military operation.” Her offense — spreading the truth about Putin and the misinformation spewed by Russian State media — was far worse. Every day in the news are juxtaposed scenes of unalloyed evil with ones of astonishing heroism and dedication to what is right and good.

Hopeful Realism

The world and our country had more than enough challenging problems before Putin invaded Ukraine. Now, every day brings new disturbing and sickening news. Ukraine turns out to be a nation of heroes, and that’s inspirational, but the toll of death and destruction is horrifying. Seeking any scrap of good news yesterday, I clicked on E. J. Dionne’s column, titled “The Case for Hopeful Realism,” in the online Washington Post. As Dionne noted, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reminded us of how puny and recklessly trivial our nation’s debate has become.” The chances of some constructive legislation by Congress seems to have improved. Could an uptick in the incidence of good will and good faith be in the making as well? We can’t be sure, but it’s not unrealistic to hope so.

Trump, Republican Senators, and Zelensky

Among the most shameful of Trump’s many foul deeds was his attempted shakedown the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, conditioning release of Congressionally authorized military assistance on Zelensky’s doing him “a favor.” Trump’s venality and tolerance of it by Republicans helped convince Putin that America was weak, corrupt, and divided and would not be a serious obstacle to carrying out his grandiose and horrific plans. Republican senators* who voted against convicting Trump in his impeachment trial are a shameful lot. None of them deserves to be reelected.
__________________
*The only one who voted to convict Trump and is running for reelection this year is Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska.

Attorney General Garland Should Appoint a Special Prosecutor to Investigate Trump

Some people worry that if Trump is investigated and prosecuted for his criminal behavior, it will increase divisiveness and stir up accusations of political vengefulness and emulate banana republic style regime changes in which an ousted president is routinely thrown in jail. Indeed, there would be such outcries from the right-wing camp if Trump is prosecuted, but for guardians of the law and American democracy to be intimidated by that prospect would be a grievously worse. As Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe has written, Attorney General Merrick Garland should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Trump.

Given the gravity of his alleged crimes, overwhelming evidence of which is already enshrined in the public record, it would be a devastating tragedy if fears of political fallout deterred the Justice Department from upholding the principle that no person is above the law.

Negotiating with a Sociopath

Negotiation is a superior method of resolving disputes. It’s sometimes said that when both parties are dissatisfied with a settlement, it’s probably a just one. Negotiations tend to be drawn out. Each party wants to compromise as little as possible, so concessions aren’t made readily. Often there’s a point when talks appear to have broken down; then at the last minute there’s a breakthrough. That’s the way it works at best, when both sides are negotiating in good faith. This can’t be expected when one of the parties is a sociopath.

Such a party is likely to just be pretending to negotiate, their main aim being to drag things out as long as possible. That’s why when you’re negotiating with someone like Putin, you have to try to construct a situation where time is not on his side. Then instead of each party making a series of little concessions, bit by bit over a long period of time, inching toward an agreement, a better strategy in my opinion is to make a relatively attractive offer from your opponent’s point of view, but put a strict time limit on it; Make them understand that it’s not a standing offer; that it’s strictly contingent on being accepted within a very short timeframe. In the Ukraine situation where a lot more death, destruction, and suffering happens every day, you must do every thing possible to achieve a quick settlement.

Stopping the Killing and Destruction

Headline: “Intermediaries seek diplomatic opening, despite gloom:”

Putin doesn’t care in the slightest how much death, destruction, and suffering he causes. His only interest is in trying to satisfy his craving for power and victory and projecting an image of himself as someone who is strong and clever and a great historic leader. His megalomania may be so extreme that it is no more possible to negotiate with him than with a rabid wild animal, but if, despite indications to the contrary, he is still capable of rational self-interest, a diplomatic solution might be possible. To achieve that it will be necessary to convince him that time is not on his side. For example, if the government of Ukraine is in agreement with such an initiative, I can imagine making him what, given the alternative, he would regard as an attractive offer — the scenario I outlined in my blog yesterday is an example. Whatever offer is made to him, it must be gotten across to him that it is unequivocally contingent on an immediate and permanent cessation of hostilities, that it will expire within a stated number of hours, and will under no circumstances be renewed. He must understand that long drawn-out negotiation is not an option, that this is a chance to self-justify himself that he will never, under any circumstances, have again.

Is a Negotiated Peace with Russia Possible?

Putin’s mindset is such that he can’t stop the war, pull his armed forces out of Ukraine, and admit that invading that country was a bad idea. He can’t bear the thought of how humiliating it would be for him to back down. And since he doesn’t care in the slightest how many innocent people he kills and maims, it’s highly likely that he will keep up his military assault until, after hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and tens of thousands of Russians die and much of Ukraine’s buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed, Russian forces physically control what’s left of the major cities of Ukraine and he has installed a puppet regime, which will have to deal with an extremely hostile citizenry and guerilla attacks by survivors for an indefinite period. Putin can declare victory, but it will be pyrrhic victory as will become evident even to the Russian people.

A least worst (which is still necessarily very bad) diplomatic solution would be desirable before even further tragedy is piled onto what has already occurred. Here’s one that might be acceptable to all parties. Crimea and Ukraine’s two eastern provinces claimed and presently occupied by Russia will be ceded to Russia. Ukraine’s continuing existence as a sovereign self-determining nation will be guaranteed by all parties. NATO will not be constrained in admitting any new country to the alliance except Ukraine. (It will be an unspecified but realistic fact that NATO will establish and maintain military superiority over Russia.) NATO and Russia will enter into a nonaggression pact. Although Ukraine will not be part of NATO, NATO will pledge to defend Ukraine if Russia attacks Ukraine in violation of the nonaggression pact. Sanctions against Russia will be lifted. Russia will foreswear attacking any other European country and understand that an attack on one will be treated as an attack on all. All parties will contribute to a robust rehabilitation and relief plan for Ukraine. Russia and NATO countries will agree to enter into good faith nuclear and conventional arms control negotiations.

What I Imagine Is the Message and the Only Message (with variations) Russians Are Hearing and Reading:

Russia could not stand idle while the Nazi regime running Ukraine committed genocide in Russian-speaking provinces that are really part of Russia, as was all of Ukraine historically and should be again. The West, embodied in the evil NATO alliance, has been sending the Ukrainians armaments and using the situation as an excuse to undermine Russia and the Russian people in a vengeful conspiracy to expand their power at Russian expense. The main criminal responsible for this is U.S. president Biden, who stole the 2020 election and isolated president Trump, with whom president Putin had a good relationship, as a result of which both countries prospered. All that has changed with the Ukrainian aggression spurred by Biden and fueled by NATO countries.

We, the Russian people, have been through this before. Once again, the Western fascists have underestimated us. It will take time. It will mean enduring hardship, but we will not be deterred. We are a proud people. No one will abuse us with impunity. We will fight, and we will teach these conspirators and fascist murderers a lesson they will never forget.

The Russian People

About 30% of the U.S. population believe Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen by Biden. They believe it because they have been mainly or fully exposed to Trumpian propaganda disseminated by Fox News and other radical right-wing propagandistic media outlets. This is in a country with plenty of access to legitimate responsible sources of news. Imagine if Americans had no source other than these radical right-wing propaganda outlets. Probably a majority of Americans would believe malicious falsehoods like Trump’s Big Lie.

In recent years, Putin has increasingly suppressed dissent and independent media in Russia. In order to suppress the truth about the invasion of Ukraine and the horrors he has inflicted on the Ukrainian people, he has gone into full-fledged totalitarian mode, threatening 15-year prison terms for anyone caught expressing an opinion or reporting any news that’s not in accord with the state-sponsored propaganda. No wonder Ukrainians say that some Russian relatives they’ve communicated with can’t believe that Russia is guilty of brutal, baseless, unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.

The truth seeps in through the cracks, however, as is evident from the fact that thousands of Russians have risked being beaten up or imprisoned for long terms for protesting Putin’s wanton aggression. In supporting Ukraine, Western powers should be scrupulously circumspect in showing respect for Russian sovereignty and the Russian people. It is their evil ruler and his cabal that is our enemy, not the Russian people, whom we should do as much as we can to enlighten about the true facts. Putin can only delay, but never prevent, the day coming when most Russians will revile him, as they would now if they knew the facts.

Quote of the Week

“None of these intelligence services can go into Putin’s head and understand what’s in there.” Alar Karis, president of Estonia

We do know that Putin must feel intensely frustrated that Ukraine didn’t collapse into his arms; that the West would have been so strongly supportive of Ukraine; that such severe sanctions would be instituted; and that the NATO countries would become far more united and resolute in response to his actions. His greatest fear — that he will be humiliated — must loom large in his thinking. He will doubtless doubtless consider what extreme measures he could take to avoid humiliation.

America’s Response to Putin’s Aggression

Although we must rigorously avoid threatening or being drawn into armed conflict with a nuclear-armed country run by a deranged dictator, we should accept the need to take additional measures and accept sacrifices on a scale that would be required in a major war. That means joining with our European allies in banning Russian oil and gas and making up the shortfall by producing more ourselves and using less of it, instituting a much more progressive tax system, accepting large numbers of Ukrainian refugees, working with our NATO allies to bolster frontline defenses; providing a great deal of humanitarian aid, and taking other important measures I don’t have the expertise to specify here. Sadly, one of our two major political parities has no agenda other than to undermine the Biden Administration and is itself largely committed to authoritarianism and all that goes with it.

The Situation

At some point in the course of their education, every student of history thinks, “Thank God Hitler didn’t get the bomb.” Now, four-fifths of a century later, Putin, who has shown himself to be on the same moral plane as Hitler, has the bomb. The U.S. is severely hampered by its own authoritarian party. Super rich, greedy people are riding high. People of good will must be resolute and never give in to cynicism or despair.

Putin’s Fallback Strategy

Putin thought he could replace the western-oriented democratic regime in Ukraine with one that would bring the country firmly within the Russian orbit. That hasn’t worked out and can’t work out because of the rightful revulsion the vast majority of Ukrainians now feel toward Putin. Presumably, Putin now understands this reality. So what is his fallback strategy? I suspect that it’s to so weaken Ukraine– to so transform it to a shell of its former self –– that it will be more of a burden than an asset to the West. Putin’s mindset is: If I can’t have it, at least I can make sure they can’t have it.

Common Characteristics That Cause a Lot of Problems

bigotry
maliciousness
triumphalism
resentfulness
cold-heartedness
mean-spiritedness
narcissism
cowardice
lack of moral compass
nihilism
greed
lust for power and status
absence of interest in the public good.
cynicism
indifference to suffering

A Washington Post Extreme Right-Wing Columnist

The Washington Post has a number of excellent columnists, all of whom see clearly what’s happened to the Republican Party and nearly the whole caboodle of Republican politicians, who instead of repudiating Trump and his depraved way of thinking and behavior, chose to emulate and support him. In an effort to offer readers a wide range of views, the Post carries columns of two or three right-wing propagandists who operate on this same base moral plane. The most consistent of these miscreants is a fellow named Marc A. Thiessen. Yesterday, a column of his was headlined: “Americans think the state of the union is a disaster.” To the extent there’s any truth in that statement it’s because a great number of people in powerful positions in this country have a state of mind similar to that of Marc A. Thiessen.

A Tale of Two Headlines

1. “Climate change is harming the planet faster than we can adapt, U.N. warns.”

2. “The Supreme Court will hear the biggest climate change case in a decade. It could hinder the E.P.A.’s efforts to reduce pollution.”

The Supreme Court is now solidly controlled by right-wing ideologues who want to limit the power of government agencies to apply laws aimed at protecting the public.

The Prospect

Putin apparently thought that the threat of overwhelming force would cow the Ukrainians into swift submission to a Russian takeover of that country. That seemed to me to be a reasonable supposition. I am in awe of Ukraine’s resistance and the bravery and leadership of President Zelensky, who declined an offer to be evacuated to a safe place.

Putin may now regret his decision to invade and conquer Ukraine, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll back off. Russian forces will likely take control of the country in the coming days. After much bloodshed, opposition will be reduced to occasional attacks on occupying forces and Russian puppet rulers. Putin will claim that the terrible toll taken on Ukraine and on Russians proves that Ukraine was run by terrorists and Nazis just as he had said. The world will settle into a tense, anxious, bristling, ugly, dangerous state as Cold War II begins to take shape.

Cold War II

“This is the last time you may see me alive,” President Zelensky of Ukraine said in speech yesterday. Putin wants to kill him, or at least imprison him for the crime of not betraying his country. Shame piled on shame until they are neck deep in it on Trump and Trumpians sympathetic to Putin. Why do they act in such a morally depraved way? It’s because enemies of democracy think that it’s important to stick together.

Putin has chosen to initiate Cold War II. For the West to survive and prevail, as it did in Cold War I, will take patience, sacrifice, courage, restraint, resolution, honesty, and rational thinking.

Putin

As far as I know, Putin isn’t consumed with hatred and murderous intent toward Jews the way Hitler was, but in his rhetoric, his obsessive-compulsive drive to conquer and control, and his absolute ruthlessness, viciousness, and indifference to suffering, his mentality appears to be indistinguishable from Hitler’s, and he has what Hitler lacked, a tremendous nuclear arsenal, which he has lately taken to bragging about. For the foreseeable future, we’ll be living in very dangerous times.

Putin’s Motivation

Woven in with Putin’s most basic motivation for conquering Ukraine — his obsession with restoring the Russian empire to the glorious perch it occupied during the Soviet era — is his fear of Ukraine becoming a flourishing democratic country with a strong economy and free expression and fair elections, a brightening beacon of liberty right in Russia’s face, with a great deal of communication between citizens of the two countries. Despite Putin’s control of the media and suppression of dissenters and disobedient journalists, the example of what a free country is like, seeping across the border, would be certain to stir dissatisfaction among Russians with Putin’s repressive rule. The Washington Post’s slogan is “Democracy dies in darkness.” The unspoken slogan of authoritarian regimes is “Tyranny is imperiled by by light.”

Trump and Putin

It’s not hard to imagine a conversation Trump is having about now with one of his trusted sycophants, Trump saying, “Putin is a tremendous guy. He’s doing what he should be doing, making Russia great again.” Trump enjoys thinking of himself and Putin as two tremendous guys making their countries great again.

The MAGA slogan helped Trump reach the White House, though he didn’t have any idea of how to make America great or care whether America was great. He just had a slogan. Putin doesn’t have a slogan but he actually wants to make Russia great again. His idea of that is restoring the Russian imperial empire to what it was when he started working for the KGB. He’s obsessed with the idea of restoring Russia to what he sees as its former glory. His obsession, rather than rational thought, is his guide.

History in the Making

History in the making seems to be a matter of lulls and big events, with undercurrents flowing all the time. In some ways it’s like geology, where forces are at work all the time but are not noticeable except to experts who are aware of stresses building up that at some point will result in a devastating earthquake or volcanic eruption. It seems to me that in recent years, big events have been piling up at an unusual rate, e.g. the election of a sociopathic aspiring autocrat as president of the United States in 2016; the failure of the Republican Party and the great majority of Republicans to repudiate him and hold him accountable, in effect adopting his moral ethos as their own; the rise of authoritarianism and brutalism and weakening of democratic institutions throughout the world; the stark failure of humanity to combat global warming; the transition of the Supreme Court of the United States into an instrument for implementing an extreme right-wing agenda; the great pandemic and threat of future ones; the rise of an imperially minded regime in China and rapid militarization of that country; and, as demonstrated in recent days and weeks, the shedding of inhibitions on the part of a Russian dictator of Napoleonic bent, resulting in a grave threat to world stability and a peril-generating resumption of the Cold War.

Putin the Protector

Headline: “Putin may go to war to capture Ukraine. With Belarus, he did it without firing a shot.” How did this happen? Belarus’s repulsive strongman dictator Alexander Lukashenko used to be proud of his country’s independence. But then his tyrannical practices produced such a terrific backlash that he was in danger of being ousted from office. Putin said to him, we can assume, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from your ungrateful citizens. We’ll move in plenty of troops and tanks that will prevent any chance of a revolution and as an added gift protect you from conquest by Poland. We were of great help to the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, a brutal dictator just like you, so you know our heart is in the right place.”

Putin doesn’t need to conquer Ukraine if he can install a government subservient to him in that country. It’s for their own good, after all. They need protection from the West.

Inequality Writ Large

Professor Robert Reich is a master of economic statistics. He often lines up a few next to each other in a way that packs a punch. He recently pointed out that 745 billionaires became $2.1 trillion richer during the pandemic, while 3.7 million children slipped back into poverty last month because the plutocrat-beholden Congress refused to extend the $300 a month per child tax credit. One in six children in America live in poverty. The dice is stacked against them. Greed is paramount.

The Awful Truth

Jennifer Rubin, in my opinion the most astute of the Washington Post columnists, conducts a question and answer live “chat” most Fridays. Yesterday, one of her longtime followers noted that she used to be a solid Republican and asked what her reason was for leaving the Republican Party. Her answer was brief and to the point: “Their repudiation of democracy and devolution into a cult based upon a web of lies.” This is the awful truth; yet the Republicans are favored to win control of the House and have a good chance of winning control of the senate in this November elections.

Trump is in a Tough Spot

Trump and two of his children have been ordered to be deposed in a legal proceeding relating to alleged fraudulent conduct by the Trump Organization.There’s no prospect that the order will be reversed. It looks like Trump will have to either refuse to appear, in which case he will be held in contempt of court, appear and plead the Fifth Amendment, an admission that he’s afraid he might have committed a crime, lie in his testimony, thereby subjecting himself to prosecution for perjury, or tell the truth, which would likely involve admitting to have committed a crime. This is a tough spot for him to be in, which is as it should be. He may find himself in even tougher spots in the months ahead.

Critical Race Theory and Reactions To It.

As I understand it, critical race theory (CRT) is the theory that there has always been a systemic discrimination in the U.S. against people of color that puts them and keeps them at a disadvantage. If you are teaching critical race theory, I suppose you would discuss specific examples in American history that illustrate why you believe critical race theory is true.

A lot of people feel that students exposed to critical race theory and historical examples supporting it may feel uncomfortable and ashamed that they belong to the white race. Some Republican-controlled states have passed laws aimed at restricting not only the teaching of critical race theory, but even teaching about historical facts that could be marshaled to support critical race theory.

News Lead: “The provisions in 13 states are vague, and tip lines allow parents to report on instructors who violate them. As a result, teachers and principals around the country report a chilling effect, where they are changing what they say in the classroom.”

It appears that, under some of these laws, a teacher of American history could be held criminally or civilly liable or be fired for discussing the prevalence of lynching of black people during certain times and in certain regions of the United States even if no mention is made of “critical race theory.” Are teachers not allowed to discuss the phenomenon of critical race theory?

Such laws are a pox upon our country and apparently a sign of the times.

Putin, Trump, and Biden

Whatever happens in the Ukraine confrontation, it’s worth recalling that, throughout his tenure in office, Trump acted like Putin’s vassal. If Trump had won reelection or succeeded in his attempted coup and were now in power, Putin would have his way: NATO and western unity would be severely weakened and would likely be forced to make concessions that would have serious deleterious effects. Thanks to Biden and his team, Putin’s fascist style military posturing with respect to Ukraine has largely unified and reinvigorated the Western alliance and diminished Putin’s bargaining strength.

Nothing can be gained and much can be lost by appeasing a bully, a good principle to remember when dealing with people like Putin or Trump.

Liberty, Libertarianism, Anarchy, and Fascism.

Liberty is limited by a reasonable respect for the rights of others. Hence, free speech does not include the right to falsely cry Fire! in a crowded theater.

Libertarianism includes liberty for the most part but without respecting the rights of others. An example is the way that
libertarians oppose background checks as a requisite to gun ownership.

Anarchy is libertarianism in the extreme. An example is a conspiracy among truckers to block international bridges for prolonged periods to protest vaccines mandates. The right of free expression in this context falls far short of justifying acting in such a destructive manner. Republican Senator Ron Paul stepped across the line from libertarianism to anarchism when he urged truckers to “clog” American cities.

Fascism is ruthless form of autocracy that wantonly deprives people of liberty to the extent it suits the purposes of the fascist regime in power. Although fascism — heavy handed to total control over public and private affairs — is at the opposite pole from anarchy, fascists seeking to gain power find anarchistic behavior congenial to their purposes. A society beset by anarchistic behavior is vulnerable to fascistic aspirants, who typically claim that only by putting them in power can order be restored.

A Word about Words

As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has pointed out, it is misleading and inappropriate to associate the word “conservative” with the word “Republican.” The Republican Party used to be conservative. But a party whose Congressional representatives and senators, to give just one stunning example — and many others are available — almost unanimously opposed a Congressional investigation of the January 6, 2021, insurrection and occupation of the Capitol and terrorizing of members of Congress causing a number of deaths and over a hundred injuries in support of a concerted effort to overturn the legitimate election of Joe Biden as president in the November 2020 election is not conservative. Far more apt, as Rubin says, are “right wing,” “radical,” “extreme,” and “authoritarian.”

A Bad Time Watching the Evening News

It was a grim experience watching the evening news yesterday — Chris Hayes on MSNBC: eight million people in Afghanistan are at risk of starvation, and Biden appears to be botching disposition of seven billion dollars of frozen Afghan liquid assets; spreading anarchy and aggressive nihilism evidenced by the Canadian truckers blockades, a movement encouraged by malevolent right-wing extremists on both sides of the border; yet more evidence of the Trump’s profoundly anti-social behavior and imitation and normalization of it by most Republican politicians; the seeming flaccidity of the Justice Department in the face of the pressing need for aggressive investigations and prosecutions of horrific wrongdoings; the structural defects in our Constitution and laws that deeply undermine American democracy; the cultivation of ignorance and mean-spiritedness by right-wing media and politicians; Putin acting like Hitler, enthralled by the phalanxes of super tanks he has massed on three sides of Ukraine. What next? Be resolute and try to be a force for the good whatever happens is my philosophy.

The Information / Response Gap

We’re supposed to be living in the “information age.” Information is supposed to be widely and quickly distributed. Yet there’s an appalling gap between solidly established facts and public response. Getting vaccinated and getting a booster shot has been thoroughly and overwhelmingly shown to greatly reduce the risk of getting a Covid infection, or if you do get a Covid infection, tremendously reducing the risk of hospitalization and the risk of death. Vaccination is free and readily obtainable in the U.S. Getting vaccinated and a booster shot is a quintessential “no brainer,” i.e. you don’t even need a brain to know that you should get vaccinated and get a booster shot. Yet only 44% of eligible Americans have gotten booster shots. This kind of enormous gap between information and response is at the root of much of what’s wrong with this country. As to its cause — that’s a big and complex topic.

The Supreme Court and Absolute Corruption

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”: Putin has virtually absolute power in Russia, and has become absolutely corrupt. The Supreme Court of the United States has absolute power in respect of cases brought before it. Five justices of the Supreme court have conclusively demonstrated that they will be guided by their right-wing ideology rather than the law. Each of them has power and each is corrupt. Because they constitute a majority of the court and determine how the court rules, collectively they have absolute power and are absolutely corrupt. They all hold life tenure and none show any signs that they will retire in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Court will continue to be absolutely corrupt for the foreseeable future. The control of the Court by right-wing ideologues has already had a damaging effect on American democracy and may turn out to be the principal agent of its destruction.

Putin and Absolute Corruption

Certain famous sayings stick in my mind. One of them, said to be Lord Acton’s dictum, is “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Judging by the mansions I understand he has scattered here and there, power corrupted Vladimir Putin. Lately, by means of brutal suppression of political adversaries, his power in Russia has ramped up close enough to the absolute level to make me wonder how he would act if became corrupted absolutely. Indeed, that may already have happened.

Absolute corruption can’t be just a matter of acquiring even greater amounts of material wealth. Surely it must involve something dramatic, something history making, something that makes the person with absolute power feel like he’s the master of the universe. Something on the order of another mansion or a bigger yacht wouldn’t satisfy that need. A whole country might seem to, at least for a while. Ukraine has become an obsession for Putin. His desire to control it may have crowded out everything else in his brain. Predicting how he will behave is virtually impossible. It’s a feature of his absolute corruption that one can’t expect him to be a rational man, much less a reasonable man, much less a good man.

Poverty and Policy

Robert Reich recently posted a powerful opinion piece on Facebook: The child tax credit that lifted more than one-third of impoverished children out of poverty expired. A coalition of every Republican senator plus Democratic Senator Joe Manchin blocked renewing it, claiming it was too costly. Reich lays out how modest tax increases on the rich, or a modest wealth tax, or a reversal of Trump tax cuts for the rich and especially for the super rich would more than fund this enlightened program. Given the incessant growth of income and wealth inequality in this country, it has the appearance of being run by Ebenezer Scrooge.

Lowering the Standards for Lying.

In the old days, when we had higher standards, liars were obliged to limit themselves to plausible falsehoods, assertions that listeners would conceivably think might be true. In the culture that obtained then, if you lied, it would be against your interests to be caught. For Fascist types, such as presently abound in the Republican Party, this requirement has gone by the boards. Thus, the Republican National Committee feels free to characterize the Jan 6, 2021, insurrection as “ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse,” even though anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with what happened that day knows that this is a lie. We don’t have to find the true facts that cause the liar to be “caught.” The true facts are in plain sight and a matter of public record.

The custom among Republicans now, which is right out of the authoritarian playbook, is to not concern yourself with whether your lie can be shown to be false. Just keep repeating it no matter how obvious it is that it’s false. Repeat, repeat, and repeat, preferably in an indignant tone of voice. Accuse people who point out the true facts of lying. Try to intimidate them into shutting up, so they don’t interfere with your spreading your lie, repeating it and amplifying it until more people believe it.

Two Universes: Republican and Democratic

The Republican National Committee’s censuring Republican representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for serving on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th, 2021, insurrection reveals how the Republican and Democratic parties inhabit separate universes. If you’re a Democrat, you are likely to be censured by the Democratic leadership if you lie; if you’re a Republican, you’re likely to be censured by the Republican leadership if you tell the truth.

Notes from Surreal Land

Yesterday the Republican National Committee voted to censure Republican representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for serving on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th, 2021, insurrection, attack on, vandalizing, and occupation of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob intent on overturning the 2020 presidential election that terrorized members of Congress and resulted in a number of deaths and numerous injuries. The Republican leaders said censure was justified because the investigation is a “persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

This characterization of the events of that day is so far removed from the bounds of reality that it would be risible if it weren’t conclusive evidence of the moral disintegration of most Republican office holders and officials, signifying a departure from the norms of civilized behavior that is bizarre, distressing, and demonstrative that we are living in a gravely troubling era of American history.

Trump and the Lyrics of the National Anthem

At one of his recent MAGA cult rallies, Trump urged his followers, many of whom own deadly weapons and have displayed a tendency toward violence, to take to the streets if he is indicted. Trump hopes that prosecutors will hold back from indicting him out of fear of unrest, violence, and revenge killings on a scale that would fracture our civil society. This is a form of demanding protection money or you’ll get a bullet through your head. A recent letter to the editor published in the New York Times argues that, to preserve the peace. prosecutors should accede to Trump’s demands.

If Trump isn’t prosecuted because of fear that if he is indicted, he will unleash his army of thuggish followers, the lyrics of our National Anthem will have to be changed to delete the phrase, “the land of the free and the home of the brave” in all four stanzas in which it appears.

Hogan for President?

Maryland Republican Larry Hogan attracts attention because he has twice been elected governor in a generally Democratic state. He is one of the few highly placed Republicans who has been sufficiently honorable to repudiate Trump. Could he successfully run against Trump in a Republican primary? Astute Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin likes the idea. She suggests that a ticket of Hogan and Liz Cheney, or Hogan and anti-Trump Republican governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson would carry a lot of weight. But isn’t a solid majority of Republicans pro-Trump? Wouldn’t Trump prevail over even fairly formable candidates opposing him in a primary? Maybe so but maybe not, especially since Trump’s criminality is likely to be increasingly exposed during the next couple of years in the course of investigations and litigation. If Hogan won the primary, the Republican Party could be restored to legitimacy, and the country saved from being under the thumb of a dangerous sociopath. Even if Trump prevailed in the primary, Hogan would have performed a great service to the country in demonstrating what the Republican Party could stand for if it was willing to extract itself from the moral quagmire it’s slipped into by tolerating and supporting Trump. If Hogan runs against Trump, it would be a salutary development at the least, and might be the catalyst that saves our democracy.

How Long Can Republicans Stand It?

As more and more damning revelations come to light about Trump’s criminal and seditious hands-on efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, bring American democracy to an end, and install himself as the authoritarian ruler of the country, will more than two or three Republican members of Congress find it intolerable to continue to support him explicitly or implicitly? Will more than pitifully few of them discern that there is a limit to how much farther they will degrade themselves in the name of party unity and personal electoral survival? Will some of these frogs jump out of the pot before the water boils?

Trump

At a recent rally of MAGA cultists in Texas, Trump let loose with a display of high-pitched demagoguery in the course of which he made clear that he tried and is still trying to overturn the 2020 election. He called on his followers to take to the streets if he is indicted. Trump is a classic bully, trying to get what he wants through intimidation. “Cross me, and you’ll regret it” is his message. He is dangerous rather than just buffoonish because he is tolerated and encouraged by powerful cynics and opportunists and because hordes of malicious, deluded, resentful, thuggish characters are inclined to indulge their worst impulses on his behalf.

The Supreme Court of the United States: Implementer of Right-Wing Ideology

I’ve seen data showing that people infected with the Covid virus are 50 times more likely to die from it than people who have been vaccinated and received booster shots. It’s hard to grasp the intellectual depravity of the six ideologically driven right-wing Supreme Court justices who struck down the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rule that, during this health emergency, large businesses must require employees to be either vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid. The justices’s stated rationale, which has no basis in law or as a matter of common sense, was that the health hazard the rule addressed existed outside the workplace as well as within it. Nothing in the Constitution, applicable statutes, or in administrative law supports such a distinction as having legal significance.

In ruling as they did, these justices will cause many illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. In his dissent, Justice Breyer wrote, “Underlying everything else in this dispute is a single, simple question: Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from covid-19? . . . An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the President authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces, and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?”

The Saturating Effect of Writing a Novel

I’m very close to finishing writing a novel. I knew that if it was to have a chance of being any good, I would have to get saturated in it. I would have to feel that I was living in the fictional world I created, so much so that I had to know a lot more about it than is set down in the text.

I realized that this would have to be the case when I read that James Joyce knew how exactly how much money Leopold Bloom had in his pocket every minute of the day during which the action in Ulysses takes place.

Of course, I don’t claim to be as meticulous as Joyce, much less closer than very distant from the circle of literary geniuses in which he resides, but I am experiencing that effect of saturation which gives one the feeling of living in a different world. I wonder if this is the way video game addicts feel, especially when playing cutting edge virtual reality metaverse games that enthusiasts feel show the way to how life really (or unreally) should be lived.

The Republican Crime Wave

The records turned over to the House Select Committee to Investigate the Insurrection after the Supreme Court blocked Trump’s attempt to keep them in their file cabinets have further revealed the enormity and scope of the effort by Republican politicians and their allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The Committee has subpoenaed fourteen people involved in the scheme to submit a fake slate of electors from seven swing states in which, in each such state, real electors had certified that Biden had won the popular vote. There is a good chance that the Committee will bring more than enough evidence to light to warrant committing scores of seditious plotters to the hall of shame, if not a lengthy stay in prison. There’s no shortage of damning facts that will be brought out into the open. Enough voters should be enlightened by these revelations to swing enough elections this November to place firm control of Congress in control of Democrats. Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely to happen for reasons too complex to explore here today. Maybe I’ll try tomorrow.

Trump, DeSantis, and the Republican Deep Bench

It would be further conclusive evidence of the GOP’s moral disintegration if Trump is their nominee in the 2024 presidential race, but no sighs of relief should be breathed if he isn’t, because their leading backup candidate is Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who is as demagogic and malevolent in his own way as Trump himself, most conspicuously at the moment in his Covid rhetoric and policies, which are infused with false and dangerous lines of propaganda and implemented with legislated wrongheaded strictures that are grossly counterproductive in combatting the virus. Republicans have a deep bench of morally bankrupt presidential aspirants. There’s no reason to hope that an honorable candidate will head their ticket in 2024.

Ukraine’s Fate

There’s been a lot of talk about how determined the Ukrainians are and how Russia will pay a terrible price if they invade that country. But the Russian military is immensely more powerful than Ukraine’s military, and they can advance on Ukraine from three sides. If they attack, I think it would be quickly seen that resistance would be suicidal. Putin could probably install a puppet government supported by a sizable segment of the Ukrainian population within a few days.The threat of U.S. and E.U. unprecedented economic sanctions will not likely be sufficient to deter Putin. I’m guessing that what happens will depend on the degree to which (1), E.U.countries can tolerate being deprived of Russian natural gas; (2) China, North Korea, and Iran are in league with Russia; and (3) Putin’s obsession with restoring Russia to its status when he was a KBG officer suppresses his pragmatic instincts.One thing certain: that making war would cause untold numbers of deaths and suffering of millions of people won’t enter into his calculations.

The Epistemological Crisis

New York Times opinion writer Farhad Manjoo has an interesting column this morning commenting on a new book by the philosopher David Chalmers about how we’re probably living in a computer simulation developed by an advanced civilization somewhere. I’ve heard about this before. It sounds like a whacky idea, and I doubt that I’ll ever be convinced that it’s not, but I’m interested in how a respected philosopher constructs such an argument, so I plan to read (or at least start reading) Chalmer’s book.

Manjoo seems drawn to this theory and raises a good point about virtual reality and how internet groups can become immersed in alternate realities that become very real to them, which is to a large extent why we’re experiencing an EPISTEMOLOGICAL CRISIS, a situation where large groups of people believe in patently false ideas, and that addresses questions like, “How is is that so many nut-cakes stage a rally near the Lincoln Memorial to protest “tyrants” like Dr. Fauci who want everybody to get vaccinated. I plan to read more about what’s going on here, which seems to be at the core of the most pressing threat to American democracy and to world order.

Nihilism on the Loose

In his MSNBC news and commentary show last evening, Chris Hayes profiled the Anti-Vax rally in Washington this past weekend. The United States ranks with Russia as the least vaccinated major country because of such people — the disinformation spreaders who are responsible for the much higher incidence of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths from Covid than would be the case if our country were not so replete with malicious nut-cakes and cynical opportunists shrieking Wolf! when there is no wolf. The most vocal of this cadre of deranged misanthropes compare doctors who urge people to get vaccinated to the vile Nazi doctors who experimented on helpless people against their will. Anti-Vax is just one of the species of mass hysteria that has infected our country, spread by agents of nihilism propelled by greed and resentment instead of empathy and love.

Trump’s Vulnerability

There is, I’m guessing, about a one-in-three chance that Trump’s criminality and betrayal of his oath of office will be so brightly illuminated that fellow members of the pack of hyenas who haven’t dared challenge the presumed alpha will see that he is so blazingly discredited in the public mind that it will be safe to break from him and run against him for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. The Republican Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is sufficiently consumed with that idea that he’s already snarling and baring his teeth. Other members of the pack, like Senator Ted Cruz and Texas governor Greg Abbott, and half a dozen or so others are equally eager to stop sniveling in Trump’s presence, nip sharply at his heels, and leap ahead of him and battle for the spoils. Only Trump’s most devoted followers, particularly ones who know that they may be in need of a presidential pardon, would be unhappy if he fails to win the nomination. There is a fair chance, if not a satisfying likelihood, that he will fall very far very fast.

Closing the Ring

This was the title of one of the volumes in Winston Churchill’s History of World War II. The “ring” refers, of course, to the allied forces closing in on Hitler. There are now so many law suits pending and investigations in process exposing new evidence and revelations implicating Trump in criminal wrongdoing that I get a sense that a ring is forming around him and might be beginning to close.

One is always reminded to be careful in comparing anyone to Hitler. Trump has never shown any inclination to order armies to invade
other countries or commit millions to gas chambers because of their ethnicity, but in his thug-attracting character and his blind disregard of the devastating consequences of his behavior in pursuit of his crazed self-serving ambition, he shares some notable psychopathological characteristics with the Führer. Justice will be done if the ring closes on him. 

The Apocalyptic Scenario People Aren’t Thinking About

Some catastrophes are visible in advance. There are increasing numbers of signs that they might happen. Steps are taken to try to avoid them. Others come as a total surprise. No one was thinking about the possibility of that particular catastrophe happening and suddenly it does, and it is utterly devastating, and the survivors see that there was a chance that it would happen and everyone should have been thinking about how to reduce the risk. That’s why I’m a supporter of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. I get emails from them from time to time, reminding me of the apocalyptic-level peril we’re in. The email I got yesterday quoted an expert and former national security advisor who warns that it’s not enough for leaders to say “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought . . . Without concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, the United States could end up in a nuclear war it says must not be fought.”

I fear that the Biden Administration is so beleaguered, so preoccupied in trying to address so many problems on so many fronts, that it is failing to address this very grave concern.

Good News and Bad News

The bad news is that Biden’s Build Back Better initiatives have been set back to square 1. Republican obstructionism (with a little help from certain Democrats) prevailed. Even worse, because potentially far more consequential, Republicans (with decisive help from Democratic senators Manchin and Sinema, whom I’ve referred to as “enigmatic” and “obdurate,” and have quite a stock of unflattering adjectives would be equally apt in referring to them) successfully blocked passage of voting rights and electoral process integrity bills that would have greatly lessened the likelihood that the United States will fall under authoritarian rule.

The good news is that Trump and his cohorts have been thrown on the defensive in Federal courts, in the House Select Committee investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, and in various state judicial and investigative proceedings. There’s an increasing chance that he won’t get away with as much as quite recently it looked as if he would.

A Bright Spot in the News

We can take some small comfort in the revelation yesterday that, although the majority of justices on the Supreme Court are partisan hacks, with the apparent exception of Justice Thomas, who registered the sole dissent, there are limits to the extent they will allow Trump largesse in his relentless effort to establish himself above the law. The Court yesterday rejected his baseless attempt to prevent release from the National Archives to the Congressional Select Committee of records that pertain to Trump’s involvement in the January 6th Insurrection. Only by bringing to light and enlightening the public as to the full scale of the criminal purposes of Trump and his allies is there likely to be a sufficient change in understanding and attitude of enough voters for our democracy to be saved.

So Much Depends on Garland

So much depended on enigmatic Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema. Their votes were crucial to modifying the filibuster rule so that voting rights and election integrity protection bills could be enacted to contravene laws passed by Republican-controlled legislatures designed to tilt election results in favor of Republican loyalist candidates regardless of the will of a majority of voters. Manchin and Sinema whiffed, each making clear that they preferred to serve their perceived self-interests rather than save American democracy from likely extinction.

Now, so much depends on Attorney General Garland. He needs to follow through on his promise to prosecute perpetrators of grave federal crimes “at any level.” Our democracy might still be saved if the most gross prominent Republican malefactors, including, indeed, in particular, Donald Trump, are unflinchingly investigated and prosecuted. To shy away from that duty, to be fearful of the divisiveness and ugly responses that enforcing the law would generate, would be a great gift to Trump and his associates and a great disservice to our country.

Putin’s Goals and Republicans’s Goals

In a trenchant Op-Ed that appeared in yesterday’s online Washington Post, retired general, Rhodes Scholar, and former NATO commander Wesley Clark sets forth sane and sensible steps the U.S. should take to deter Putin in his agenda for restoring Russia to its position prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Conquering or installing a puppet government in Ukraine is Putin’s immediate goal.

The Republican Party, with the help of two obdurate Democratic senators, has gained the power to block President Biden’s legislative initiatives, including voting rights and election integrity protection initiatives, and through their promotion or tolerance of damaging misinformation, their complicity with Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, their opposition to investigation of the January 6th, 2021, insurrection and their refusal to censure or restrain the conspicuous militant nihilists in their ranks in Congress, and in having succeeded in installing a solid majority of like-minded justices on the Supreme Court, they have made substantial progress toward achieving their goal of making Biden fail and, coupled with their radically anti-democratic legislative initiatives in states they control, maximizing their chances of gaining control of Congress in the November elections and the presidency in January 2025. They have shown no concern that, in their anti-democratic methods of weakening Biden, they have significantly weakened the country, much, we can be sure, to Putin’s satisfaction

Thoughts Prompted by Turning on the Television Last Evening

I turned on the news last evening. The newscaster / commentator was interviewing a Canadian political scientist. I didn’t have the sound on, and didn’t need to because a banner headline summarized what the political scientist was saying: “America could soon be a dictatorship.” I switched the channel to a football game, not because I didn’t think what this fellow was saying was very possible, but because I could guess what he was saying -– I’ve been following the news that closely. By the time the football players were occupying the screen, running through my mind for about the 500th time this year (and the year is still young) were lines from Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . .

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Thankfully, many of the best don’t lack all conviction. There are a lot of well positioned people who are working energetically to keep our country from falling under authoritarian rule. The banner headline on that newscast might just as well have read; “America could soon show that it will not let itself become a dictatorship.”

The Road to Wrong

Robert Reich notes that “Maybe, just maybe, when the two wealthiest people in this country own more wealth than the bottom 40%, something is wrong.” By preventing voting rights and election integrity legislation to be enacted, Democrats Senators Simena and Manchin have given a huge boost to the massive effort by Republicans to exchange American democracy for longterm, one-party autocratic rule, ensuring that the wrong Reich cites is just the beginning.

America the Beleaguered

“The Republican Party is now the party of voter suppression and election subversion,” writes Jennifer Rubin in a recent Washington Post column. Republicans’s goal is to lock-in longterm minority control of all branches of government, and they’re well on their way to achieving that goal. Some Republicans are more vocal and virulent than others, but even those who speak in measured terms exhibit no interest in saving American democracy. “America is coming apart at the seams,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. No wonder Putin thinks this is a good time to conquer Ukraine.

The Call That Isn’t Going To Get Through

Senator Krysten Sinema made clear yesterday that, although she would vote for bills crafted to counter voter suppression and ensure the integrity of election processes, she would not vote to make an exception to the filibuster rule that would allow such such bills to become law. Her reason was that it would foster political division.

The Republicans are much more likely to achieve their aim of converting our form of government from a democracy to long term authoritarian one-party minority rule in the absence of legislation that Simena, apparently with the concordance of Senator Joe Manchin, has blocked.

As Jennifer Rubin noted in a column earlier in the day, “Republicans . . . almost certainly would dump the filibuster at the drop of a hat if it suited them. (as they did on confirming Supreme Court justices).”

Yet we wouldn’t want to risk fostering political division with a political party that is engaged in a concerted effort to end American democracy and reinstall as president a malevolent sociopath, would we? Simena believes that avoiding fostering political division is a weightier matter than preserving American democracy when you balance the scales.

This is a “Planet Earth to Senator Sinema” moment, but the call isn’t going to get through. Simena’s either extraordinarily obtuse, or deeply cynical, state of mind presages dark times ahead.

More on the Magnificent Webb Telescope

The fantastic but real Webb telescope is gradually decelerating as it approaches its station about a million miles from Earth. The complexity of this instrument and what’s involved in deploying it get relatively little attention in the media, over-saturated as it is from a seemingly endless succession of unprecedentedly disturbing events.

Reading about this stunning scientific project gives one a sense of what humans can do when they aren’t engaged in enterprises (like running Congress, for example), dangerously contaminated by pathologically self-obsessed nihilistic actors. Even if you’re not interested in astronomy or cosmology, you might find it worthwhile to check the NASA website, “Where is the Webb?”: https://jwst.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/whereIsWebb.html

Trump, Georgia, and Justice

Concerning the the investigation of a Georgia District Attorney of Trump’s efforts to intimidate the Georgia Secretary of State into
fraudulently “finding” enough votes to enable Trump to have “won” that state despite Biden having won a solid majority of Georgia votes cast in the 2020 presidential election, in one of her columns yesterday, Washington Post op-ed writer Jennifer Rubin noted that “it is rare for any criminal case to have this much direct evidence available.” She cautioned that to obtain a conviction, prosecutors would have to “prove his state of mind, knowing that he was seeking fraudulent, not legitimate, votes.”

This reminded me of the legal maxim Res ipsa loquitur, “the thing speaks for itself.” What a breath for fresh air it would be if, in this instance, justice prevailed.

Those Present and Those Absent

At the House of Representatives ceremony to honor the police officers who died as a result of the January 6, 2021 insurrection, Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her elderly father, former vice president Dick Cheney, were the only Republicans who showed up. All the others, taking the Republican Party banner and the detritus of their honor with them, clambered aboard an unseaworthy pirate ship commanded by a malevolent sociopath who never learned how to tell port from starboard, much less right from wrong.

Where We Are in the Stream of History, Simply Said

“There is no more left vs right. It’s now democracy vs authoritarianism. . . If Democrats fail to protect the
right to vote, we will fall to fascism. We’re already on our way.” Robert Reich.

The Most Disingenuous Assertion of the Day

News Item: “The Washington Post revealed that “at least 163 Republicans who have embraced Trump’s false claims are running for statewide positions that would give them authority over the administration of elections.”

The headline yesterday of a column by right-wing pundit Hugh Hewitt in this same newspaper read: “Go ahead Democrats: Revise the filibuster and reap the whirlwind again.” This takes the prize as the most disingenuous assertion of the day, and probably of the year so far, because embedded in it is the risible assumption that the morally disintegrated Republican Party won’t unleash the whirlwind anyway if they take control of the senate. In fact, in supporting Trump’s Big Lie that the presidential election was stolen and in aggressively working to bring the sociopathic former president’s authoritarian aspirations to fruition, Republicans are already nothing but all whirlwind all the time.

It’s a good bet that this columnist’s aim was to give maverick Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema an excuse to oppose carving out an exception to the filibuster rule even though doing so is a necessary condition of saving American democracy from extinction.

The Magnificent Webb Telescope

If you’d like a some relief from the endless succession of foreboding and disturbing news stories and commentary (e.g. the chances of American democracy surviving seem to be ebbing every day), read about the magnificent Webb telescope, which was launched Christmas Day and is now about three-quarters of its way en route to its station about a million miles from Earth. The telescope’s sun shield and secondary mirror and port primary mirror have been successfully deployed in space. I’ve read that this fantastic instrument will fail and become worthless if any one of something like 350 things go wrong. So far about 175 things haven’t! Still ahead: deployment of mirror segments, telescope cooling, telescope alignment, and instrument calibration. First images and spectra are expected in about six months. We’ll learn a lot more about the universe if and after the Webb becomes fully operational.

This Pivotal Moment

In his remarks marking the one-year anniversary of the insurrection, Biden rightly assailed the vile conduct of “the former president”
and vividly described the peril our country is in. A solid majority of Americans would prefer to save our democracy than lose it. Unless a solid majority of Americans understand that this is the overriding issue in the upcoming elections, democracy will not likely survive. Biden seems to understand that he must be the principal messenger of this stark fact.

Garland’s Intentions

In his speech yesterday, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to assure the public that the Department of Justice investigation of the January 6, 2021 insurrection would be thorough and would examine whether there were criminal violations of the law at all levels. He was unclear as to whether that would be the case with respect to the concerted attempt to overturn the legitimate election of Biden as president, which is an even more important issue, since it goes to the heart of our Constitutional form of government. Garland must pursue both issues with equal vigor and resolve if American democracy is to have a chance of surviving past the upcoming elections.

The Critical Questions of the Day

1. Does Attorney General Merrick Garland, in addition to being superbly qualified and having unquestionable integrity, have the right stuff, the right stuff being the courage and wisdom to conduct a vigorous, thoroughgoing, uncompromising criminal investigation of the instigation of the January 6, 2021 insurrection and the concerted attempt to overturn the legitimate election of Biden as president?

2. Do Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, and Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, have sufficiently good moral character to endorse an exception to the filibuster rule so that legislation can be enacted that is critical to saving American democracy from ending within the next few years?

The answers to these questions will provide the answer to Lincoln’s question as to whether “we will nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope on earth.”

Note from Surreal Land

That the omicron variant is causing such an agonizingly high number of cases and hospitalizations is largely due to malevolent right-wing disinformation campaigns discouraging people from getting vaccinated. Right-wing Republican politicians and media stars delight in demagoguing the issue by championing freedom to refuse to be vaccinated. This nihilistic form of madness has been carried to such lengths that five states (all unsurprisingly dominated by Trumpian types and their supporters) are giving people unemployment compensation if they lose their job because they (presumably heroically) refused to be vaccinated.

If. . .

Something like 73% of Republicans (I’d guess about 30% of the entire electorate) believe or falsely claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that Biden is not the legitimate president. They therefore feel, or falsely claim to be, justified in doing whatever they can to replace Democratic control of Congress and the presidency with Republican control, including instituting blatantly anti-democratic measures such as grossly partisan gerrymandering, voting suppression, concerted intimidation of election officials, and even, in the case of the presidential election, empowering Republican-controlled state legislatures to substitute Republican slates of electors for ones responsive to the will of the majority of voters. This means that about thirty percent of the electorate is willing to trash democratic norms based on false beliefs or false cynical claims in order to secure longterm entrenched Republican rule.

Many analysts have observed that democracy itself is on the ballot in 2022 and 2024 elections. It’s more than “on the ballot.” It eclipses all other issues in significance. If all voters understood that Democrats are committed to preserving democracy, and Republicans to ending it, Democrats would easily prevail in the upcoming elections.

On the Significance of the Word “Brave” in Our Present Circumstances

A Washington Post article the other day referred to “a few brave Republicans speaking out against the ‘big lie’ of a stolen election.” What was brave about their speaking out? What would be the consequences of being truthful, honest, and responsible? If they were legislators, they might receive a primary challenge from a rabid Trumpian. Is that such a risk that it requires bravery to take it? Whether they were legislators or not, by speaking out, they might receive intimidating threats from the thuggish paramilitary contingent of MAGA cultists, who are not just tolerated, but encouraged, by the well-tailored leaders of the Republican Party. One-third of Americans say that it may be necessary to use violence to attack the government. Such folks, most of them well-armed, describe themselves as champions of freedom even as they try to limit that that hallowed right to those brave enough to contest their vicious and nihilistic agenda.

A Cheerful Thought to Begin the New Year

I resolved to think of a cheerful thought to begin the new year. One could make a heartening list of good developments, inspiring examples, and favorable portents for 2022, though I’m not sure their aggregate mass would surpass that of the potential apocalypses hovering barely over the horizon. The most cheerful thought that comes to me at the moment is that you can handle all manner of situations much better if you have the right state of mind. I know that because, even though my basic situation, being 90 years-old, isn’t as favorable as it was decades ago, I’m feeling anxiety-free, more self-confident, and more relaxed than I did decades ago because my state of mind improved. I think most people would be happier and more clear-headed if they could develop a better state of mind. I don’t presume to advise anyone on how to bring that about. I describe how it happened to me in “The View from Ninety,” accessible on this website.

Year-End Wrap Up

Here we are again, wrapping up the year and looking ahead to the new one. Watching a couple of MSNBC news shows last evening was like playing a game called Choose Your Own Apocalypse; for example, there’s the multi-pronged, thug-assisted, truth-assaulting attempt by Republicans to convert American democracy into longterm, one-party, authoritarian rule that, right now, looks more likely to succeed than not; there’s the “doomsday glacier” in Antarctica, likely to be undercut by warm water and destined to significantly raise sea level, which you can read about in conjunction with news of a devastating wildfire in northern Colorado, in late December, next to the report of a 67 F. temperature reading in Alaska that topped the previous record by 20 degrees; then there’s Putin, acting like Stalin, massing troops in preparation for conquering Ukraine, threatening to reprise The Cold War and risking a hot one; then there’s the seemingly endless pandemic (who knows what mutant is next?). The list of looming apocalypses to choose from is longer than I want to devote time to thinking about. Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and one of my resolutions is to be more cheerful.

2022

What a year ahead. So many problems, the biggest of which is that 71% of Republicans, close to 35% of the population, have been duped into believing that Biden somehow stole the election, and that he is not the legitimate president. That there is zero evidence that this is the case means nothing to these folks. A similar percentage believe most of the myths spun out by disseminators of right-wing propaganda, including about the cause of the January 6th insurrection and the value of Covid vaccines. The duped and deluded and those who duped and deluded them are the biggest problem this country faces in 2022. More than 50,000,000 Americans have been infected with the Covid virus. More than twice that number are infected with false beliefs virus. It’s a phenomenon that has weakened our country and imperils its continuance as the world’s leading democracy.

Stoicism

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read or skimmed a couple of books and several articles promoting stoicism as the best way to live. I won’t attempt to analyze the pros and cons of stoicism here, but I’ll say that I believe something is missing from it. It’s colorless. It lacks verve. It’s unimaginative. Maybe I’m a romantic.

New Year Resolutions for America

In a Washington Post column this morning, Jennifer Rubin proposes six New Year’s resolutions for America. All make sense. Most pertain to elected officials and media people. One pertains to everybody: We need to be good citizens. Following and keeping all six is essential if American democracy is to survive. Most salient, in my opinion, relates to Attorney General Merrick Garland. The Justice Department must conduct a thorough criminal investigation of the incitement of the January 6th insurrection and obstruction of Congress in its Constitutional role of ensuring the peaceful transition of power to the duly elected president. Failing to do so will amount to a license to try again.

What We’ll Likely Know a Year from Now

It’s stunning to contemplate: Right now, it looks premature even to guess, but a year from now we’ll know whether it’s likely that American democracy will be saved or whether it’s likely that it’s in an irreversible down spiral into long term, one-party authoritarian rule.

Omicron: Not To Be Taken Lightly

A cautionary op-ed this morning on the front page of the online Washington Post makes a compelling argument that omicron could have a much worse effect on humanity than most people seem to think. The author, Dr. William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, says that the variant is so new that we don’t yet know what its long-term effects may be. Because of its extreme ease of transmissibility, it’s producing record numbers of cases. Likelihood of new mutations that could be more deadly or more resistant to vaccines is correlated with the numbers of cases. We shouldn’t go into a daze induced by the hope that omicron will quickly pass. It’s “past time,” Dr. Hanage says, for the world to deliver billions more vaccine does throughout the world, to make rapid tests freely available, and to work in other ways he talks about to minimize the virus’s toll.

Merry Christmas to Everyone!

I was glad to see that the world got a little present this morning with the successful launch of the James Webb telescope, which, if it reaches its planned location about a million miles from Earth and becomes fully operational, thereafter accompanying Earth at that distance as we continue our revolutions around the sun, will expand our explorations of the universe and help us better understand it and our place in it far more than could be accomplished by sending astronauts on space missions, and, I believe, in some small way, increase our sense of commonality and relationship to the cosmos.

The Likely Person of the Year for 2022

If, twelve months ahead of time, I had to guess who my choice for person of the year will be for 2022, I’d guess it that it will be Attorney General Merrick Garland. That’s because during 2022 he will have either (i) effectively demonstrated that the rule of law and the principle that no person is above the law are still intact by having launched a full-scale Justice Department criminal investigation of Donald Trump and high-level characters that aided him in inciting the January 6th insurrection and plotting to overturn the legitimate election of Joe Biden as president in 2020, or (ii) by failing to do so, will have established a place in history for himself as a good man with superb credentials who failed to summon up the courage and lacked the wisdom to come to the aid of his country when duty demanded it.

The Child Tax Credit

The $300 per month child tax credit which reduced child poverty by almost 50% is set to expire because Democratic senator Joe Manchin and all fifty Republican senators say it’s mostly giving money to people who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. Challenged to say why he doesn’t want to sharply reduce child poverty at a cost well within the nation’s capability, Manchin cited a talk he had with a woman who said her daughter was a crackhead, implying that she would spend the child tax credit on drugs. I’m sure some parents spend money they receive stupidly or self-indulgently, resulting in no benefit to the child. In what percent of families is that the case? Maybe 2%, maybe 10%? Whatever it is, you can bet –– I believe it’s been documented ––that for the overwhelming percentage of eligible families, the child tax credit makes a substantial difference in the physical and mental health of the children involved. Sure, some of this subsidy is wasted. There are sensible ways of addressing that problem. Throwing millions of children that have been lifted out of poverty, back into it, in great numbers of cases blighting their lives, isn’t one of them.

Another Standout Journalist Worthy of Praise

Further to my nomination of Jennifer Rubin as the Journalist and Opinion Writer of the Year, I should say that someone who is no less a credit to the profession and ranks with Rubin in quality of analysis, exemplary character, and service to the truth, is MSNBC news and opinion host Chris Hayes. In his weeknights show at 8:00 p.m. E.S.T., he is consistently on target. Last night he began documenting the Republicans’s “festival of violence,” exhibiting how Fox News propagandists and extreme right-wing politicians have been parading and glorifying as a hero the disturbed youth, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who journeyed from his home in Illinois with his military style assault weapon and shot three people but was acquitted of all charges on the ground of self-defense. The entire episode and the appropriation of this young man for their exultation of violence is disgusting beyond words. Chris Hayes shined a bright light on it.

Journalist and Opinion Writer of the Year:

If I were nominating someone for this, it would be Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin. What clinched it for me was her marvelous holiday list of gift wishes for various people, entities, and groups, which is witty and bespeaks her good-heartedness and practical wisdom. My gift wish would include a copy of her columns next year landing each day on every politician’s desk.

Here’s a sampling of gifts Rubin would like to bestow. The entire list is much longer and much worth reading, and her daily columns are too.

Facebook: A new business model that does not monetize anger, polarization and disinformation.

The District of Columbia: Statehood.

Doctors and nurses: Patients who are vaccinated.

The Senate: A reformed filibuster that will make the body functional.

Person of the Year

Time Magazine has shown itself to be exceptionally clunk-headed by naming Elon Musk as its “Person of the Year.”

I don’t know who, if anyone, should be Person of the Year, but one person who would have been a far better choice for Time to have made is the Republican Representative from Wyoming, Liz Cheney. I would cite her for exceptional service to our country in acting like a normal Republican, in particular in serving and playing a leading role as member of the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6th insurrection.

Why would Cheney be a candidate for Person of the Year just for acting as a normal Republican? The answer is that, with a handful of exceptions, no other Republican member of Congress is normal. They are all abnormal, abysmally so, in abjectly tolerating or enthusiastically supporting the authoritarian-power-seeking sociopathic former president.

Omicron: The Need to Sharply Step Up the Rate of Booster Shots

The rate of discovery of new Covid cases with the omicron variant, where it is present, which by now is just about everywhere, appear to be doubling every two or three days. You know how graphs look with that kind of exponential growth. Although, as one always hears, “there’s still a lot to be learned,” it seems well established that beyond six months after vaccination with two shots a few weeks apart, Pfizer and Moderna offer scant protection from omicron, but that a third (booster) shot of either of these brands offers excellent protection, especially against severe illness. It’s not known how long this booster protection lasts, but presumably for at least several months before gradually losing efficacy. One would think that everyone who got the recommended two-shot dose many months earlier in the year would be running, and not walking, to get their booster shot. (I got mine without having to wait in line on October 1st.) Yet I just read that 70% of people who have had two shots have not gotten their booster shot. These people aren’t anti-vaxers: Most of them got two shots many months ago. It’s puzzling and disturbing that the rate of booster shots is so sluggish. The result will likely be a considerably faster rise than need be in the rate of new omicron variant cases in the coming weeks.

he 2024 Presidential Election and the Grave Threat that Attends It.

I’ve come across a lot of unsettling headlines in recent years, none more so than for an opinion piece by three retired generals that can be found on today’s online Washington Post: “The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection.”

The authors hypothesize this plausible scenario: The outcome of the presidential election in 2024 is contested; an insurrection and armed confrontations ensue; conflicting claims are made as to who is in rightful command of our armed forces; some military units align themselves with one claimant and others with the other claimant.

The present administration, Congress, and the military leadership must act effectively to ensure that neither this scenario nor anything like it can occur. The authors lay out steps that need to be taken. Their warning and their advice should be treated as a matter of highest importance and priority.

The Constitution and the Supreme Court

There’s an old saying: “The Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.” An authoritative column yesterday by New York Times Supreme Court analyst Linda Greenhouse yesterday discusses the ways in which the present Court, stacked by Republicans with a super majority of right-wing extremists, is in effect saying that the Constitution means what suits the personal preferences of the majority of justices. The words of the Constitution remain unchanged, but their meaning, as lower courts must take them to be in the future, is changing, among other ways, in curtailing women’s reproductive freedom, forcing states to fund religious education, and reprehensibly limiting gun safety regulation.

American Democracy, Joe Biden and Joe Manchin

Voting rights and electoral processes protection legislation must be enacted if American democracy is to be saved.This is the pre-eminent issue of our time. Apparently Democratic senator Joe Manchin’s reluctance to carving out an exception to the filibuster is standing in the way. What is going on in conversations between Biden and Manchin? From Manchin’s behavior, one would think that he doesn’t care what happens to American Democracy. Has Biden asked him if that’s the case? Can’t Manchin’s yearning for power, money, and prestige be met some other way? For example, can’t other Democrats accede to his demands with respect to the Build Back Better legislation and let him claim that he saved America’s solvency by standing firm? It’s worth sacrificing most of Build Back Better, if that’s what it takes to save American democracy.

On Being Ninety

If you’ve had enough luck so far, since with a little more of it you’ll reach ninety in good health, you’ll be glad to know that, despite attenuated life expectancy and diminished mobility, this can be a much better situation than I imagined when I was young. By this age, little is expected of you, and only a smattering of your relatives and friends your age are still around and none from older generations. You may feel, as I do, as if you died some time ago but were able to return with barely a care for yourself in the world and check out the scene, become aware of some important things that hadn’t previously entered your consciousness, and try to accomplish something significant you had thought about but neglected to attend to when you were alive earlier.

Where is the January 6th Insurrection Investigation by the House Select Committee charged with that task heading?

In one of her columns in yesterday’s online Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin lays out what’s already been uncovered and concludes: “The committee appears well on the way to detailing indisputable evidence of Trump’s role in attempting to override the Constitution.”

It would be the most satisfying breath of fresh air this country has ever experienced if justice prevails.

The Purification of Fox News

Chris Wallace, a popular host and interviewer known for his journalist integrity, is leaving Fox News to take a position at CNN, thereby removing the only major obstacle to Fox News’s fulfilling its mission as an uncompromising disseminator of extreme right-wing truth-free propaganda.

Stiffening Our Resolve

Glancing at the online Washington Post front page last evening, confirmed my feeling that 2022 is going to be an exceptionally challenging year. We need to get into a mental state where we can keep balanced, stiffen our resolve, work for the good, and not succumb to despair. First, dominating the news, were the tornados that barreled through central states. They were more devastating than any I can recall, and December isn’t in the tornado season. Elsewhere on the front page I saw that the 14-day change in new Covid cases is up 40% and deaths up 31% (They were trending down this morning, but it was reported that the omicron variant is spreading fast). Next I turned to see what the opinion writers have to say and scanned the headings of featured columns. The top one read, “Jan. 6 wasn’t an insurrection. It was vigilantism. And more is coming.” That doesn’t sound good. The next was headed, “Jan. 6 crossed a line. We need to say so before it’s too late for democracy.” Right, but how does saying so get us anywhere? What was next? “I monitor Trump’s die-hard base. They’re still plotting out in the open.” Put these together and they’re more than alarming. Maybe the next column is more encouraging. Afraid not: it’s headlined: “18 steps to a democratic breakdown.” That caused me to be glad that we have an independent judiciary –– surely the courts will save us. That doesn’t seem likely either: The headline for the last column, the editorial, reads: “The nation needed a strong defense of constitutional rights. The Supreme Court did this instead.”

What can you say after reading this stuff? “Have a nice day.”?

Ukraine

It’s nice but quaint to think that the succession of eras of the human species had ended when from time to time a country tried to conquer another and subjugate it or incorporate all or part of it as a province. Putin, who rules Russia, is threatening to invade Ukraine and incorporate it into Russia as was the case in the time of the Soviet Union, and it looks like he’s going to do it. Ukraine is about as capable of defending itself against Putin as Poland was of defending itself against Hitler in 1939. A war between the two would probably last a day or two, whereupon Ukraine would surrender for humanitarian reasons. Putin knows that the United States and other NATO countries will let this happen rather then engage in a war with Russia. Biden has warned Putin that there would be serious consequences for such blatant aggression. Meanwhile western European countries want Russian natural gas to stay warm in winter. They are reluctant to jeopardize getting it. I hope, but am doubtful, that Biden can assemble enough formidable economic consequences and have them ready to wield to deter an invasion.

The Most Despicable Person of the Year

So much competition! Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy has made an excellent case for himself, as have Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson, Tom Cotton, among other high ranking Republican politicians, including several contemptible governors. The list of execrable politicians and media personnel has never been longer nor has it ever included more sociopaths who would coast to victory under normal circumstances. And while I’m on that subject, let me give a special shout at Rupert Murdoch, who has never been adequately depreciated.

Note to wanabees Republican Representatives Majorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert: You’re both too obviously whacko to be as serious threats to American democracy as the front runners. You’re not in a class, for example, with mob henchmen Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, much less the incomparably repulsive Steve Bannon. Among media stars, Tucker Carlson’s stunningly ignoble performances have exceeded those even of Sean Hennessy, and both are certainly deserving of unparalleled excoriation.

How could I have not already mentioned the stupendously horrible Florida member of the House of Representatives, Matt Gaetz? Let me not be even more remiss in failing to acknowledge that standout among schmucks, Mark Meadows. And I want to give special condemnation to Arizona Republican Representative Paul Gosar, who produced and distributed an animation depicting himself murdering his progressive Democratic colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an imaginative and bold attempt to win the title. There are many more miscreants than I have space to list here, all worthy of dishonorable mention, but like you, Mr. Gosar, they are all also-rans. Once again, as happens year after year, hands down, Donald J Trump is the most despicable person of the year.

A Hopeful Note Concerning the 2022 Elections

Jennifer Rubin sounded a hopeful note about the 2020 elections in one of her online Washington Post columns yesterday, pointing out that though it won’t be easy for Democrats to retain their tenuous grip on Congress in next year’s elections, a favorable factor for them is that because radical, obstructionist, right-wing conspiracy theory-promoting, authoritarian-minded Trump supporters and emulators dominate the Republican Party, many of their candidates will be the kind of extremist figure that most voters recoil from. That’s a nice thought, though it only qualifies as a hopeful note.

America’s Civil War between Truth Tellers and Liars

Imagine a scene where a town has plenty of cops, but there’s almost as many robbers, and all the robbers are wearing police uniforms and are just as well armed as the cops. Our country is in similar circumstances. We are presently engaged in a civil war between truths (to give a few examples, though a full list would be much longer: that the last presidential election was fairly won; that the attempted coup on January 6th should be fully investigated and the those participating in it and those involved in instigating it should be criminally prosecuted no matter how lofty a position they hold or held at that time; that it’s important for the common good for everyone to be vaccinated against Covid; and that it’s fundamental to our democracy that obstructions should be removed that make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote) and lies (denying these and other truths and asserting that the opposite is true). In this civil war, speaking with passionate intensity, the liars call themselves truth tellers and call the truth tellers liars. It’s the greatest tragedy this country has endured since the Civil War itself.

Can American Democracy Be Saved?

Later this week, President Biden is convening a virtual meeting in which a great many countries, including ones with conspicuously shaky democratic institutions, are to confer about how to strengthen democracy and repel authoritarian movements. Is Biden aware that American democracy itself is on the ropes? Last evening, on her MSNBC news show, Rachel Maddow read aloud for viewers lengthy excerpts from a chilling just published article in the Atlantic about the Republican Party’s multi-pronged effort to engineer a “legal” coup and establish long term one-party control over the federal government and how plausible it is that they will succeed. Democrats, particularly Biden himself, must get across to all Americans of good will the peril we’re in, its cause, and what must be done about it.

Red States, Blue States, and Vaccinations

Red States and counties –– ones in which Republicans tend to win elections –– have significantly lower percentages of residents who have been vaccinated and significantly higher rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from Covid than Blue states (ones where Democrats tend to win elections). This distinct correlation is caused by the tendency among Republicans and their media allies to denigrate the efficacy of vaccines and undermine efforts by the Biden administration to fight the virus. The desire of these people to undercut the Biden administration is stronger than any concern they have for the public good or even for members of their own constituency. Their dominant characteristic is destructiveness to the point of nihilism.

Serial Killers

It’s striking how in certain instances a person can act maliciously, causing the deaths of others, yet not be subject to criminal prosecution. That’s the case with people who have a large audience and, although they know otherwise, assert that vaccines are harmful and best avoided and that vaccine requirements are medically inadvisable or tyrannical, or both. There are a lot of people in this category, including the woman on Fox News who compared the president’s chief health advisor to a Nazi war criminal because he wants people to get vaccinated. Prominent Republican politicians and right-wing media personalities have deterred millions of people from getting vaccinated against the Covid. Many of these people have contracted the virus who would not have had they been vaccinated, and among these, many have endured serious illness, and among these, many have died. The malefactors responsible for these deaths may not be prosecutable under federal or state criminal law, but they are serial killers just the same.

The West at Bay

Headline: “Russia planning massive military offensive against Ukraine involving 175,000 troops, U.S. intelligence warns.”
A book by the British economist Barbara Ward, published in 1949, the year in which the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear weapons test and Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China, was titled The West at Bay. I’ve never read the book, but the title and the concept have long haunted me. To say the least, an update with the same title, would be apt. We’re in grim circumstances, both because of the character and resources of our adversaries and because the West is at bay from within itself. The European Union, post-Brexit, is besieged by fractious forces, and the United States is semi-paralyzed by multiple afflictions, at the heart of which is the moral disintegration of the Republican Party, evidenced most spectacularly by the stance of the vast majority of Republicans, ranging from abject tolerance of, to enthusiastic allegiance to, the sociopathic former president.

Omicron

Early analysis of new data from South Africa reported on this morning suggests that the Omicron variant is three times more transmissible than the Delta, and that previous infection with other variants confers less immunity against Omicron. My nonauthoritative impression from what I’ve read suggests that Omicron is also more evasive of vaccines than previous variants, but that current vaccines are still substantially effective in preventing severe illness and death.

The world in a much better position to deal with this development than it was a year ago, but the need for collective, rational, aggressive action has never been greater. If we weren’t also enduring a plague of anti-vaccination hysteria, conspiracy theorizing, mask mandate opposition, and malicious misinformation spreading, we could feel positive about humanity’s chances of ending the pandemic in 2022.

Requiem for Roe v. Wade

The six Supreme Court justices who will almost certainly decide to either overrule Roe v. Wade or strip it of any practical meaning are all hard-nosed doctrinaire Catholics of a mind to think that by decreeing that a woman’s choice to have an abortion is not a Constitutional right, they are showing themselves to be more Christian, and therefore more virtuous, than those with contrary opinions. In this righteous act of self-sanctification they will ignore —they cannot bear to consider –– the dismay, cruelty, and hardship that will ensue from their decision. They will ignore that the incidence of abortions has radically declined since Roe v. Wade was decided. They will ignore that the Constitution not only guarantees freedom of religion, it guarantees freedom from religion. They will ignore that, in states where abortions will be illegal, women who are well off will be able to get an abortion by traveling to a state where it is allowed, but most poor women will not. It is the poor who will suffer. Our country will suffer. When the Court issues its decision, the Christian spirit will not be found in the majority opinion. It will be found in the dissent, which I hope will be written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Christian Catholic on the Court.

Running Out the Clock

If the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection could get all the testimony and documents it’s seeking, the odds are that it would assemble more than enough evidence of criminal wrongdoing to result in prosecution and probable conviction of Trump and some of his prominent collaborators. These people know that this course of events will probably play out unless they can delay proceedings sufficiently so that no irreversible harm will happen to Trump or any of his loyalists before, as is more likely than not, Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives a year from now. American democracy’s survival may depend on whether the wheels of justice turn fast enough to keep its enemies from running out the clock.

What Must Be Prioritized Above All Else

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin reported yesterday on a conversation she had with former Soviet dissident and world chess champion Garry Kasparov. He leads The Renew Democracy Initiative, which comprises dissidents from 28 countries who are working to defend and preserve American democracy. Kasparov has lived through what he’s talking about. He says that “the very existence of well-functioning liberal democracies threatens dictators’ legitimacy.” That’s why autocrats throughout the word will do everything to create chaos and divide our country. In a time of crisis, like the present one, those who wish to preserve democracy must prioritize working to do so above all else. That’s why it’s so absurd for people like Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema to prioritize preserving the filibuster rule over preserving and restoring voting rights and ensuing the integrity of electoral processes. It’s behavior akin to refusing to break the glass facing of a case to take out a fire extinguisher with which you can keep a building from burning down.

The Month Ahead

It will be momentous. There’s the almost certain warping of basic Constitutional principles by the extremist right-wing-dominated Supreme Court, the funding the government issue to grapple with and the raising the debt ceiling issue, the new omicron variant challenge, the dealing with inflation without precipitating a recession problem, parrying Russian and Chinese expansionism, trying to pass meaningful “soft” infrastructure and climate change-slowing legislation, trying to get recalcitrant Democratic senators to agree to amend the filibuster so that voting rights protection and electoral process reform legislation can be enacted in time to save the country from becoming an authoritarian state, and I don’t think this list is complete.

On Being Awed

Last evening, I read a New York Times “guest essay” that resonated with my own thoughts. It was titled “Why Space Tourists Won’t Find the Awe They Seek.” The author, Henry Wismayer, a travel writer based in London, made a persuasive case. Super rich tourists pay upwards of $450,000 to rocket to what’s called the edge of space (about 1 /5,000th of the way to the moon, by the way) and are served champagne upon return to celebrate their experience. Wismayer explains that “under such contrived conditions, awe will always be a chimera.” To seek awe is to undercut finding it.

After reading this essay, I recalled some instances in which I’ve experienced awe. The first time cost 25 cents at most rather than $450,000. It occurred when our family spent a week’s vacation in Miami Beach in 1941 when I was ten years-old. There was virtually no light pollution in the park we strolled through one evening, and we came upon a man with a telescope on a tripod who offered to let anyone look through it for a small fee. Pop treated, and for the first time I saw Jupiter as a disc, and lined up in a row on either side of it three or four of its moons. I doubt if Galileo was more thrilled than I when he had the same experience. I had an ice-cream cone afterwards, but it wasn’t to celebrate being awed.

Gerrymandering Run Amok and What It Means

New York Times headline: “Maps Give G.O.P. a Stranglehold in Key States.” The maps referred to are of Congressional districts and state legislative districts drawn so as to confer disproportionate representation to the party controlling the state government. The effect of this profoundly anti-democratic trend is to favor Republican candidates at both state and federal levels. The right-wing- controlled Supreme Court has washed its hands of the matter. Enactment of Federal legislation to protect voting rights and ensure the integrity of electoral processes is all that stands in the way of (at best) gross degradation of American democracy in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Two obtuse and shamelessly opportunistic Democratic senators stand in the way of enactment of Democratic-sponsered Federal legislation to protect voting rights and ensure the integrity of electoral processes.

Climate Change –– The View from Colorado

I remember a decade or two ago, a climate-change-scoffing Congressman brought a snowball into the House chamber to back up his claim that climate change was a hoax. This was risible, and even more it was idiotic. Trends are another thing. Our house is in southwestern Colorado, elevation 6,600’. When we moved here about fifteen years ago, we were told that that the first snow on the ground should be expected by the end of October. I just checked the weather forecast for the coming days, and it’s evident that, for the first time, we won’t have snow on the ground by the end of November. Sunny and mild is the prediction for each of the next five days, with a high of sixty on December 1st. Even a trend can be an anomaly. This one is clearly not.

Thanks and Hope

Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and no less so to those who don’t celebrate it! Jennifer Rubin had a lovely and affecting column in the online Washington Post yesterday titled “Giving Thanks for Democracy.” Troublesome as our times are, many people have worked for the good, and much has been accomplished. A bright note yesterday was the murder conviction by a jury in Georgia of three men who gunned down a black man who was running away from them. After Thanksgiving comes the Season of Hope. Thankfully there’s a basis for it.

No Ordinary Moment in History

The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin titled her book about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during the World War II “No Ordinary Time.” It sure wasn’t. There’s nothing as dramatic as many of the events of Word War II occurring at present, so it’s tempting to think we are living in ordinary times, even though we are living at a singularly momentous time: The fate of the nation is at stake. In a Washington Post column yesterday Jennifer Rubin reported that a group of 150 scholars have sent an extraordinary letter to members of Congress, in which they state: “This is no ordinary moment in the course of our democracy. It is a moment of great peril and risk.” The letter lays out with clarity and precision the consequences that will result if the senate doesn’t suspend the filibuster rule and pass voting rights protection and electoral process reform well before the 2022 elections. The likely alternative is one of unprecedented horror.

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys

The great classic Western movies usually featured the Good Guys, like the sheriff and those loyal to him in High Noon, and the Bad Guys –- the outlaws. In these movies the Bad Guys knew they were bad. They didn’t deny it. They just thought they could shoot their way out of it. In contemporary United States, the Bad Guys make a great show of pretending that they are the Good Guys, and there are a lot of Bad Guys –- politicians, media personalities, and their financial backers –– who have convinced a large segment of the public that they are the Good Guys and that it’s the guys generally regarded as good that are the bad ones. It’s easy for someone like me, who has seen a lot and learned a lot about American history, having lived through well over a third of it since 1776, and has a pretty good understanding of our society and culture, to tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, and it’s agonizing to observe that there are so many Bad Guys and no less so that there are so many people who can’t tell the difference between Good Guys and Bad Guys or have been duped into getting it backward. If the existential struggle going on in the United States right now were happening in a classic Western movie, I could assure you that the Good Guys are going to win. I’m sorry it’s not.

A Challenge –– (adapted from a letter to the editor of my regional newspaper)

Regional newspapers play a vital role in keeping the public informed and offering a forum for a wide range of opinion. Their task has been been made more difficult in recent decades not only because of competition with TV cable networks and internet publishers, resulting in erosion of revenue from subscriptions and advertising, but also because the country has become so politically polarized that many of the most newsworthy stories, even though they are reported truthfully and comprehensively, may be enthusiastically welcomed by one constituency and denounced by another with such intensity that the newspaper risks alienating sizable blocks of readers and advertisers simply by fulfilling its journalistic responsibilities.

As a result, owners of newspapers may be tempted to avoid expressing highly controversial opinions and shy away from publishing freely and fearlessly, calling out truth and lies for what, in each case, they are, because they fear that doing so could impair their ability to operate profitably enough to stay in business. In meeting this difficult challenge, newspaper owners should keep in mind the Washington Post’s motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Newspapers must shine light brightly no matter what.

History and Chance

Headline: “{Democratic Senator Krysten} Sinema holds firm in support of the filibuster, imperiling late voting rights push.”

I’ve long been haunted by the limerick “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost. / For want of a shoe, a horse was lost. / For want of a horse, the battle was lost. / For want of a battle, the war was lost. Now I’m haunted by this speculative thought: For want of a senator’s vote to bypass the filibuster, federal voting rights and electoral process integrity protection legislation didn’t pass. For want of federal voting rights and electoral process integrity protection legislation, American democracy was lost

A World Where Everybody’s Shooting in Self-Defense

You may have read or heard about the 17-year-old fellow who went to a street protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, carrying an assault weapon and ended up shooting three people and killing two of them. He was tried for murder and lesser charges, and yesterday a jury acquitted him on all counts. This is what happens in our gun-besotted society. If you go to a protest, planning to protest either for X or against X, you’re exercising your right of free speech and assembly; you’re performing a civic duty too, expressing your views as a concerned citizen.

The trouble is that in these highly polarized intense times, given that high Republican public officials, including the former president, and well-dressed right-wing media personalities have persistently incited impressionable people to be violent, attending a protest can be dangerous. Violence can break out. It’s best to be prepared to defend yourself in case you’re attacked, and to be safe, it’s best to have a powerful automatic weapon (an assault rifle) because it will have a stronger deterrent effect and thereby minimize the risk of violence. To be extra safe, it’s best to display and brandish your weapon a little to show hostile protestors that you’re not to be trifled with. Doing that will surely minimize the risk of violence even more.

But suppose you are another person, and you are at the protest and see someone approaching you, brandishing an assault rifle. You can’t be sure, but he looks ready to shoot you. Best to shoot first in self-defense. It’s the law that you can shoot in self-defense, so why take a chance? Unfortunately, you don’t get a chance to think about it because that’s what the fellow with the assault weapon thinks you’re likely to do whether you are or not. Just thinking it could happen makes it so as far as he’s concerned. You feel threatened, so much so that he shoots you. Maybe, at least, he’s sorry. He may cry later about having shot you in self-defense. You don’t learn about that though, because you’re dead.

Tax Structure and Tax Collection Enforcement

News Item: “Over the next 10 years, the IRS is on track to collect 7 trillion less than is owed.” That’s apart from all the trillions that would be owed if it weren’t for all the the tax breaks and loopholes in the law that enable the rich and especially the super rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. A lot of people not only don’t want an equitable tax structure, they don’t want the IRS to be adequately funded to enforce the existing law, and they’re calling the shots.

Once Again, Republicans Reveal Themselves for What They Are

Yesterday, The House of Representatives, having far more than ample cause to do so (expulsion from Congress would have been a more appropriate sanction), voted to censure one of its members, Paul Gosar (R – Arizona). Gosar had used congressional resources to produce and release a cartoon video of him murdering Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D -New York). Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank reported that “In the video, the Gosar figure flies through the air and slashes the Ocasio-Cortez figure across the back of the neck. Blood sprays profusely from the neck wound.” That only two Republican members of Congress (about 1% of them) voted to censure Gosar reveals with crystal clarity the degree to which Republicans and the Republican Party have abandoned all sense of responsibility, decency, and fitness to hold public office. They are a shameful lot. Their perpetuation in positions of power constitutes a grave threat to our country.

Keeping in Touch with the Universe

Because of trees, other houses, and the slope of the land, it’s not easy to keep in touch with the universe from our house, but still possible. In the upstairs hallway there’s an octagonal window facing west through which, by the time it got dark last evening, Venus shone with dazzling luminosity. This morning, it was still dark when I got up, and Venus had been replaced by Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Venus, right now, is about fifty million miles away. Sirius is about fifty million million miles away. I used to live in a house where I could look up from the deck and see the Andromeda galaxy, which is about fifteen million, million, million miles away. Astronomers think of it as local.

How I Was Astonished by the Transformation of Republicans and the Republican Party

Growing up, and after growing up, I was so indoctrinated in American exceptionalism, in thinking how proud most Americans must be in our country, our Constitutional form of government, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, making the world safe for Democracy, how, through American goodness, former fascist dictatorships Germany, Japan, and Italy became transformed into shining democracies, winning the cold war, breaking down the Berlin wall, the Civil Rights movement –– all that and a lot of other good stuff –– that it never occurred to me that the Republican Party, affectionally known as the GOP (the Grand Old Party), could become dominated by people intent on subjugating, or acceding to the subjugation of, our country to fascistic, mendacious, plutocratic, white supremacist-tolerating, brutish, authoritarian, unAmerican one party rule.

The Virtue of Refusing To Be Discouraged

People of good will have reason to be discouraged. Biden’s approval rating is at a new low. Chances are fading that Democratic Senators Manchin and Simena will allow the Build Back Better program to pass in anything but pathetically watered-down form, and chances that they will allow reform of the filibuster so that voting rights protection and electoral process reform can be enacted seem slimmer every day. Right wing-propelled propaganda and misinformation continue to poison the air. The New York Times reports that Republicans have gained a “heavy House edge in 2022 as Gerrymandered maps emerge.” The spurt in inflation is another blow to Biden’s agenda. The just concluded conference on climate change was a flop. The outlook is bleak on almost every front. Remember though, there is virtue in refusing to be discouraged. There’s always a chance that happy surprises lie ahead.

Headline: Biden’s Approval Rating Drops To New Low

It sounds like Biden isn’t doing a good job as president, even though Democrats control Congress. Suppose Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Simena had the mindsets of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, or for that matter of almost any of the other Democratic senators, Biden’s Build Back Better bill would have been enacted largely intact, voting protection and electoral process integrity legislation would have been enacted, the mood of the country would be a lot better, and Biden’s approval rating would be much higher. It would be the same Biden, doing no better or worse a job than he is now, but luckier.

“The Republican Party is mainstreaming menace as a political tool.”

The above line, a distillation of observations of historians, is from a New York Times article published online last evening about the rise of violence, threats of violence, and encouragement of violence that Republicans have increasingly directed at their opponents, even those who are members of their own party. Trump, Trump-emulating politicians, and propagandist right-wing media, most notably Fox News, have whipped a large segment of the population into a frenzy of hatred and vengefulness. It’s a very disturbing phenomenon that, if it continues to escalate, will almost certainly lead to tragedy.

Countering the Assault on Democracy

Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin commented on a new report by the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy on what is needed if American democracy is to be saved from the massive concerted attack on it by authoritarian-minded Republicans and their allies. Example: Republicans have introduced or passed more than 200 bills in state legislatures “that would enable Republican legislatures to dislodge neutral election officials, challenge and overturn results and undermine confidence in election outcomes.”

Unprecedented horrors lie ahead if effective federal legislation to protect voting rights and election integrity isn’t enacted well in advance of next year’s elections. The Protect Democracy report lists other measures that must be taken as well. Otherwise, in a few years, the American experiment, as pundits have oddly taken to calling our constitutional form of government, will have failed.

Republican Reality Check

Any person of good will who thinks of themselves as a Republican and therefore is inclined to vote for or support a Republican running for public office needs to conduct a reality check as to the character of today’s Republican Party –– It’s very different from what it was over the course of many decades during which my parents were committed Republicans. The conclusion from a reality check conducted today must be, as Jennifer Rubin put it an online Washington Post column yesterday: The reality of the Republican Party is “total obstruction, manipulation of voters to foster white resentment, malicious attacks on reality. . . . and preference for. . . authoritarian leadership. . .”

The China / Russia / Climate Problem

In her Washington Post column yesterday the always astute Katrina vanden Heuval pointed out that even if the world leaders who recently convened in Glasgow were able to keep their pledges to reduce carbon emissions, which it appears they don’t have the will or political power to carry through on, two elephants that should have been in the room but weren’t, are Russia and China, both led by dictators who, let us say, lack team spirit. Both of them failed to send representatives to the conference. Both of them represent threats to world peace and stability. Both are inclined to threaten, challenge, and destabilize the U.S. Yet the cooperation of both is requisite to effectively addressing climate change. This presents another challenge to President Biden. He has to reach out to the dictators of these pivotal countries and try to engage their support in saving humanity without acceding to their imperious demands. It’s a seemingly impossible task.

Climate Change and Change Blindness

I recently read a book about the brain in which the author referred to a phenomenon called “change blindness.” When a change takes place relatively slowly, we tend not to notice it. Geological changes take place so slowly that continents may be rising and islands sinking, but at a rate that’s indiscernible over the course of a lifetime. Climate change is faster –– one can discern seemingly slight changes over the course of decades –– but it’s not fast enough to overcome change blindness. That’s what’s happening. Some see it and are waving red flags. Most don’t see it or barely notice it. Others, whether they see it or not, prefer to ignore it.

Wealth and Taxes

A recent article by the historian Jill Lepore told of a birthday party Bill Gates recently gave on a rented yacht anchored in a cove off the coast of Turkey to which he ferried guests by private helicopter, among them Jeff Bezos, who happened to be nearby on his yacht, which, as Lepore noted, is not the same as the yacht he has ordered and is still under construction, as to which I’ve read that even though it will cost half a billion dollars, is not designed to carry a helicopter, but that will not inconvenience Bezos, because he plans to have an assistant yacht that carries a helicopter and can trail along behind his main yacht, ready to be of service when needed. Not only super-billionaires, like Gates and Bezos, but also ordinary multibillionaires and just barely billionaires, and even super multimillionaires, and, come to think of it, even common multimillionaires should be taxed a lot more than they have been.

A Ray of Hope

Having enacted the “bipartisan” infrastructure bill and with some reasonable hope remaining of enacting a watered down “build back better” bill through “reconciliation” (avoiding a Republican filibuster), and some chance left that recalcitrant Democrat senators Simena and Manchin will agree to carving out an exception to the filibuster so the Freedom to Vote bill can be enacted, ensuring that voting rights and election integrity will be at least fairly well protected, and given the reasonable possibility that the economy will continue to improve and that Covid can be beat back further, there is a significant chance that Democrats will prevail in enough swing jurisdictions next year –– enough to provide a ray of hope that American democracy, decency, and rationality will survive, for at least a few years longer, the assaults of greed, cynicism, and malice Republicans and right-wing extremist media are certain to continue to hurl against them.

Torture

Headline: Myanmar’s nightmare now includes systematic torture

Having been responsible for torturing prisoners during the Iraq war and having failed to bring those responsible to justice, the United States has weakened moral authority to exercise world leadership in ending this abhorrent practice.

The Simple Essential Pressing Imperative

Democrats must get effective voting rights and election integrity legislation enacted by Congress within the next few months or American democracy will be lost, perhaps forever.

Headline: “An abnormal Republican Party was treated normally by voters in New Jersey and Virginia”

This was the heading for Washington Post pundit Perry Bacon’s column this morning. It’s the full shocking story in two lines. Voters don’t understand that the Republican Party has become the authoritarian party, the party that failed to remove Trump from office, that tolerates or promotes his Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Joe Biden, that opposed a full-scale investigation of the January 6th insurrection, and is bent on warping election laws so that Republicans will have an unassailable advantage in future elections. If Democrats can’t change this dynamic within the next year, American democracy will not likely survive.

Election Day 2021: a Portent of Bad Things to Come

Even though Biden beat Trump by about 10 percentage points in Virginia in the 2020 election, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate has been elected governor of that state, beating the well-regarded Democrat candidate by a comfortable margin. The result bodes ill for elections coming up next year and for the 2024 presidential election. A great swath of voters don’t seem to understand that, inspired by Trump and Trump-like politicians and propaganda-spreading right-wing media barons, Republicans have become ruthless in their efforts to bring down our democracy and supplant it with one-party authoritarian rule. If most voters realized this, Democrats would win most elections overwhelmingly.

On the Enormity of Being Aligned with Trump

News Item: “For more than three hours, {President Trump} resisted entreaties from Republican lawmakers and numerous advisers to urge the {January 6th} mob to disperse, a delay that contributed to harrowing acts of violence.”

As I recall, the crime of reckless endangerment is a felony in most jurisdictions. Reckless endangerment is unjustifiable behavior that puts others at a significant risk of grievous injury or death. It’s just one of the crimes for which Trump should be criminally prosecuted. Candidates for office –– most Republican politicians –– who fail to publicly repudiate him thereby descend to his moral plane. Anyone aligned with Trump, whether explicitly or by failing to repudiate him, is unfit to hold public office.

Approval Ratings

I read that Biden’s approval rating had dropped to 42%. This is said to bode ill for the Democrats’s chances in the 2022 elections, and it certainly isn’t encouraging. Biden has performed well in some respects and not so well in other respects. Given the extraordinary challenges he’s had, I think on balance he’s done pretty well. I can see how some people would be so disappointed in him that they would say they “don’t approve,” but this approval rating business produces a misleading and contorted statistic, diverting attention from what’s of overriding importance. Biden may be barely better than O.K. on an absolute scale, but he he’s infinitely preferable to Trump, or any Trump emulator, or anyone who acts as if Trump is fit to serve in public office, which includes almost every Republican. What’s of ultimate importance is that Biden is a highly experienced honorable man who wants to preserve our democracy. I approve of that 100%.

Critical Race Theory

The outcome of the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday may turn on whether enough voters think that Democrats try to get schools to inculcate children with critical race theory, the purpose of which, the more histrionic Republicans, of which there are a lot, say is to make white children feel ashamed of being white. I don’t approve of theories of history. In my view, the term critical race theory should never have been invented. But teaching significant historical facts is right, and, if arguments about “critical race theory” have become publicly significant, teaching about critical race theory, its various meanings and the reactions it has generated, is right. The essence of good teaching of history is good faith proportional coverage and emphasis of significant true facts.

Note from Surreal Land

Because of an absurd, archaic, undemocratic, and seemingly unalterable Senate rule, a single senator can put a “hold” on a presidential nomination. It’s a rule that cries out for abuse, and Republican senators, most notably Ted Cruz, have answered the call. As a result, other than Mexico and Turkey, President Biden has been allowed to name no ambassadors to any of the other countries in the G20. The problem with Cruz has nothing to do with any legitimate substantive consideration and has everything to do with his deeply flawed character.

Hoping for the Best Despite the Following:

Events come and go so thick and fast that often highly significant ones that cry out for attention are all but forgotten within a few days. Last week Washington Post columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel reported that a great number of “leaked financial records from 14 different ‘offshore’ wealth-service firms” expose how the rich, the superrich, and all varieties of big-time criminals hide their money in tax havens. Thus, the people who should be taxed the most are substantially undertaxed or aren’t taxed at all. Yet, it seems, nothing can be done, Nothing can be done; on to the next problem. Biden hasn’t performed flawlessly, but the challenges he has faced and still faces have been exceptionally rough. The entire Republican Party is dedicated to sabotaging his initiatives and bringing him down, and he has been forced to placate difficult people in his own party. I hope some good parts of his ambitious policy proposals get enacted into law. But whether they do or not, we’ll continue living in more than usual perilous times. If you think of the “civilized” world as a 19th-century sailing ship, it’s leaking from stem to stern, some of its timbers are rotten, its standing rigging is rusty, its running rigging is frayed, the crew is in a mutinous mood, and it’s on course to the tropics, where it will probably be becalmed until the hurricane season arrives.

Note: After writing the above, I read a timely posting by Robert Reich warning against sinking into cynicism and despair.and advocating resilience and constructive engagement.

The Probably Unfixable Limitations of Our Criminal Justice System

A possible reason why the Justice Department hasn’t apparently been more aggressive in conducting a criminal investigation of Trump’s role in inciting the January 6th insurrection and probable commission of other felonies for which there is ample evidence in the public recored is that roughly 25% percent of the jurors in any criminal trial would likely be ones who either believe or pretend to believe his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him and other monumental falsehoods, and would believe or pretend to believe that the same forces responsible for this purported outrage would be responsible for securing his indictment and trial for criminal wrongdoing –– call them “true believers.”

True believers may be expected to vote for acquittal regardless of overwhelming evidence of guilt.Since a unanimous verdict of twelve jurors is required to secure a conviction, one true believer would be enough to block it. If 25% of prospective members of the jury are true believers, the odds are extremely high that a jury will contain at least one of them. Nor would jury selection procedures likely make much difference. It cannot responsibly be argued that Trump is above the law, but as a practical matter, in the most important respects, he may be.

Facebook

Headline: “Five points for anger, one for a ‘like’: How Facebook’s formula fostered rage and misinformation”

I must have signed up for Facebook a long time ago, because for years I have had it bookmarked and can scroll down to see postings that appear on it. I never initiate a post but I sometimes click on “like” and occasionally make a comment. A few people I know post with some frequency and I enjoy seeing what they have to say and looking at photos they display. Most of the items I see when I scroll down are posts by public figures, usually prominent progressive political or media figures. Many postings are political fund raising requests. Facebook obviously steered these people to me. Every now and then I see a post by the Dalai Lama and have found them inspiring. I’m never exposed to hate speech or conspiracy theories. Facebook’s famous algorithms presumably wall me off from such noxious stuff, which, the company steers receptive people toward, cranking up vitriol and misinformation, playing on people’s worst instincts and inflicting harm on others and on society. It’s clear from what I’ve read that Facebook hasn’t come close to adequately responding to such exposés. The company needs to be regulated, but this is tricky business because of First Amendment considerations. Unless someone comes up with a better solution soon, it would be best to break Facebook up.

The Party of Thugs

This is the title of a column by Paul Waldman in yesterday’s online Washington Post. You can guess what he’s talking about. Instead of repudiating the thug-in-chief, Republican politicians have opted en masse to emulate him. Here’s the test, as Waldman puts it: “Can you give offense, can you make people cringe, can you do your part to make our politics as mean and unpleasant as possible?” Alarming numbers of people have no trouble answering in the affirmative and acting accordingly.

Not all Republican members of Congress meet Trump’s requirements for being a thug –– he has set a exceptionally high bar, yet is eager to raise it. Some Republicans are temperate in their rhetoric and behavior. But with near unanimity, they support or fail to refute Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him. They create confusion and chaos and cultivate public ignorance and false beliefs. Yeats’s line, “the worst are full of passionate intensity,” flies out of his poem and sticks to them.

One of the Ways in which Inequality Grows

Most income of most people is in the form of salaries or wages. The amount paid in each case is reported to the IRS. Taxpayers can’t cheat. Richer people tend to have more income as to which there’s no way the IRS can check to see if it’s accurate. The IRS estimated in 2019 that Americans conceal from taxation more than half of income that is not subject to some form of third-party verification.

From the government’s point of view (and from the honest taxpayer’s point of view), it would be highly cost effective to set up procedures to minimize such leakage of tax revenues. Unfortunately, it’s the policy of Republican political leaders to keep the IRS underfunded so that the agency isn’t able to adequately enforce tax collection. Republican big donors to political campaigns, on average, prefer to donate smaller amounts to friendly politicians than pay larger amounts in taxes.

Another Illustration of the Transformation of the Republican Party

Last week, Congress voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt for defying the subpoena issued by the select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. The last time this happened was almost forty years ago, and the vote was unanimous. Every member of both parties understood that if a witness can defy a subpoena to testify or hand over documents that are material and relevant to an investigation, Congress’s oversight function, an important feature of our Constitutional system of government, would be crippled. In Bannon’s case, all but nine House Republicans voted against holding him in contempt, illustrating, once again, the transformation of the Republican Party into an assemblage of unprincipled, authoritarian, truth-denying opportunists.

Good Will and Bad Faith

Good will is a core concept. The idea is that everyone is flawed, some lose perspective or never gain it, some lose their temper when they shouldn’t, some are too anxious to please or to cut corners if that’s what it takes to prevail, some are too often thoughtless about how they behave hurts others. But in my experience the vast majority of people have a basic sense of good will; they have an innate sense of decency. It’s more than disturbing to see that ethos, that basic unwritten compact that holds society together, systematically assaulted by issuers of false and malicious rhetoric. Mean-spiritedness and bad faith are ascendant. They are directing the course of events. To borrow the title of the last book of the late journalist Tony Judt, “Ill Fares the Land.” We have to hope that, like the pandemic, this distressing phase of history will pass.

Hate Waiting To Happen

A remark made by Joe Biden the other day neatly expressed something I’ve been thinking about: “Hate never goes away,” Biden said. “In all the years I’ve been involved [in politics], I thought once we got through it, it would go away. But it doesn’t. It only hides. It only hides until some seeming legitimate person breathes some oxygen under the rocks where they’re hiding and gives it some breath.”

There are a lot of sulky, aggrieved, resentful, uninformed, and misinformed people who mostly aren’t usually particularly vocal or civically engaged, but are responsive to incitement by demagogic characters who exude hate and spew lies and venom. That’s the oxygen Biden is referring to, and these people, when they are exposed to this kind of noxious drivel from Trump or Trump-emulators, lack the innate decency of character to act responsibly and they feel relief in exuding hate and spewing lies and venom too. It makes them feel like, finally, they are contenders.

Republican Senators

Yesterday, taking advantage of the filibuster rule, Republican senators, voting unanimously, blocked debate on the Freedom to Vote bill. They don’t want to debate whether proposed legislation to ensure free and fair elections is desirable. They know that they would lose the debate, because they have no serious arguments against it and are themselves engaged in undermining democracy. They don’t want to perpetuate democratic processes. They are so desperate in their desire to achieve authoritarian one-party rule that they are are willing to support as their candidate an ignorant, crude, mean-spirited, bullying, megalomaniacal sociopath. They are ––every one of them –– guilty of the crime of reckless endangerment of American democracy.

Heading Nowhere

In 2017, the Trump administration’s great legislative initiative, revising the tax code to sharply reduce taxes on corporations and provide even greater tax breaks than already existed for the rich and especially for the super rich, sailed through the Republican-controlled Congress in a flash of time. It now appears that after prolonged struggle, Democrats may be able to enact only a grievously diluted version of Biden’s plan to strengthen our country. address to some degree crippling and unconscionable economic inequities, and combat climate change. In blocking legislation, Republicans and “moderate” Democrats are pinning our country down, stifling progress, and snuffing out opportunities. One example: In a Washington Post column yesterday, Katrina vanden Heuvel reported that “the average country in the Western industrialized world spends $14,436 annually per child on toddler care. The United States spends a measly $500.” This is the kind of country it appears we will continue to be.

Inequality and Public Policy

One might think that wealth inequality, which has been increasing for decades, would by now have reached a point where those entrusted with running our government would with near unanimity think, and publicly disclose that they think, that we could accomplish a great deal more as a nation, we could lift ourselves up from our present sorry state, if we adopted policies of the sort President Biden dreams of, and policies that he hasn’t dreamed of, because, after all, although he is a decent man, he can’t think of everything, and they would be much better policies because those entrusted with running our government would all be working toward the same goal and wouldn’t carve out innumerable exceptions to satisfy lobbyists employed by rich donors and corporations who are benefactors of compliant politicians, and they would be policies more finely tuned to be efficient in achieving the results the Biden dreams of and beyond what Biden dreams of, for it turns out that cost is not a problem: All that’s needed is to restructure our tax and subsidy system, which grossly favors the rich, the really rich, and even more, the super rich, and even more, the oligarchal characters perched on the tops of their respective shining hills. The statistics prove it. One among dozens that leap off the page: “The wealth in stocks alone for the top 1 percent increased by more than $6.5 trillion over the course of the pandemic.” The money’s there. A lot more of it should be directed toward the common good.

The Virginia Election

An election scheduled in Virginia two weeks from now will determine who that state’s next governor will be, McAuliffe a Democrat, or Youngkin, a Republican. Democrats want to preserve our democracy, Republicans want to convert our system of government to one-party authoritarian rule. According to pollsters, the race is a close one. Not that many years ago, I would have thought that any candidate who is a member of a party that wants to convert our system of government to one-party authoritarian rule would get only a handful of votes, all of them from crackpots. How times change.

An Example of Why Humankind May Not Be Able To Save Itself from Extinction.

California has decided to ban gasoline-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Besides being noisy, smelly and, especially in the case of leaf blowers, generally irksome, they emit a tremendous amount of toxic pollution and greenhouse emissions. This is the kind of reform that should have been instituted throughout the world years ago, but won’t be replicated in most jurisdictions for a long time, if ever, which is another example of how humankind seems unable to act collectively and rationally to save itself.

Fusion Energy

If one is aiming to write a blog every day about what’s going on in the world that catches one’s eye, there’s never any shortage of material or subject matter: To give an example, last week I read an article in The New Yorker about fusion energy, which unlike fission energy, which powers all the world’s nuclear energy plants, doesn’t produce radioactive waste, doesn’t carry the risk of meltdown and radioactive contamination, and produces a much more energy per pound of fuel. It’s been demonstrated to work in an experimental unit –– the physics is well understood –– but it is devilishly hard to build a nuclear fusion power plant in a way that would be commercially feasible. That goal may be reachable and it may not, but since fusion energy may be our only hope of arresting global warming, we should have spent and should be spending a lot more money trying to develop it. If the United States had spent on it a very small fraction of what it has spent subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, we might have solved the problems that thus far have been preventing fusion from becoming humankind’s cheap ticket to ubiquitous clean safe energy.

The Epidemic of Madness that Plagues the Land

I saw a video clip last evening that showed a Trump supporter pledging allegiance to an American flag that he thought had been waved by one of the thugs who stormed the capitol on January 6th. Might there be an as yet unidentified virus that infects people’s brains and makes them go crazy? I don’t know of a better explanation as to why a large segment of the population has been propelled to idolize the dangerous sociopathic former president. How can it be that every Republican senator and almost every Republican member of the House of Representatives clings to him and seeks his blessing, and that it means more to them than honesty, decency, and American democracy? They seem to have been stricken by a particularly vicious strain of the virus, one that destroys the moral compass in the brain.

The Dark Prospect for the 2024 Presidential Election

In a chilling op-ed in yesterday’s online Washington Post, Paul Waldman persuasively argued that Trump will almost certainly run for president in 2024 and that no Republican will oppose him, raising the beyond horrifying prospect of a second Trump presidency. Moreover, even if Trump loses the election, he will again claim that it was stolen from him, and this time Republicans will likely have set in place a much more sophisticated and coordinated framework for overturning the election and installing him as president, effectively ending American democracy. We can only hope that events during the coming months will result in a happier scenario.

One of the Most Maddening Set of Facts of the Day

Pharmaceutical prices in the United States are higher than in other countries. Practically everyone in the United States thinks Medicare should be able to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. This would bring pharmaceutical prices down close to reasonable levels, save lives, reduce hospitalizations, and reduce economic hardship without disincentivizing new drug development. All Republicans oppose this measure, because its enactment would reflect well on Biden, and their policy is to oppose any measure that would reflect well on Biden. All Democratic senators favor the measure except Krysten Sinema, of Arizona, who accepts large campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies. This not bribery. There is no quid pro quo. The pharmaceutical companies favor her because they know she is a reliable ally.

The Interrelationship between Trump and Democracy

Former United States National Security specialist in Russian and European affairs Fiona Hill: “If he {Trump} makes a successful return to the presidency in 2024, democracy’s done.”

This is true, as is that: If democracy’s done, he {Trump} will make a successful return to the presidency in 2024.

The Task Ahead for Biden and Defenders of Democracy

President Joe Biden’s approval rating has slipped, but if all voters understood what’s been going on in this country –– that the vast majority of Republicans (i) promote or play along with Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen, (ii) pretend that he was not the principal instigator of the January 6th insurrection, (iii) ignore that he illegally tried and isn’t continuing to illegally try to reinstate himself as president, (iv) have no policy other than to obstruct and derail the administration’s agenda, (v) have put forth no alternative substantive policy proposals, and (v) are engaged in a concerted effort to warp the electoral process in such a manner that Republicans will control the government even if a majority of voters don’t want them to –– Biden’s approval rating vis-a-vis the disgraced former president would be far higher. Biden and all defenders of democracy must get it across to the public that the upcoming elections will not be a contest between candidates who are traditional Democrats and candidates who are traditional Republicans, but between candidates who want to preserve American democracy and candidates who want to convert our form of government to one-party authoritarian rule.

America’s Second Civil War

The opposing forces are still mobilizing and positioning themselves in America’s second civil war. We know that key battles will take place in the elections in 2022 and 2024. Hard fought skirmishes will occur in the meantime and right into 2025.

It’s too early to accurately assess the strength of the forces of each side. A supposedly neutral party, the Supreme Court of the United States, which, as one astute commentator has observed, has become “a cynical enabler of right-wing extremists,” will likely supply armaments to the Republicans, which could give them a decisive advantage.

Midnight in Washington

“Despair is a luxury we can’t afford,” writes House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff in his new book, Midnight in Washington –– How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could. Carlos Losada, reviewing the book in the Washington Post, notes that Schiff “is more interested in the insurrectionists wearing suits and ties than in the shirtless ones in buffalo horns.” There are a lot more of those suits-and-ties people, and they are better financed and in far more formidable positions power than the thuggish characters who invaded the Capitol and threatened the lives of legislators, and they are working concertedly and continuously to bring our democracy down. It’s not too much to say that the United States is engaged in a second civil war. Tumultuous times lie ahead.

A Feeling of Disquietude

I woke up in the night with a feeling of disquietude. The cause is the state of our country, and for that matter, the whole world. Greed and hatred are proliferating. Malevolent forces are on the ascendent. It’s as if Trump was a pathogen that escaped from the lab and infected a great swath of the population. Clear-eyed Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin is more accurate than hyperbolic in observing that “The sane faction of the GOP could probably fit around a dining room table.” 

Note from Surreal Land

As far as I know, no member of Congress in either political party has argued that it would be a good thing if the United States of America, the world’s greatest democracy, what Lincoln called the “last best hope of earth,” defaulted on its debts, which is apparently what will happen if Congress doesn’t act to raise the debt ceiling. Yet every Republican member of the senate has taken the position that Democrats must raise the debt limit ceiling without the support of any Republican votes. Moreover, Republicans promise to filibuster any attempt by Democrats to do so. This political maneuver is designed to associate in the public’s mind the notion that Democrats are reckless big spenders and Republicans are guardians of the fiscal integrity. Republicans ignore that they raised the debt ceiling three times during the tenure of the Trump administration, in the course of which some eight trillion dollars was added to the national debt, a substantial portion of which is attributable to tax cuts for big corporations, the rich, and especially the super rich. Republican posturing over the debt ceiling is hypocritical, cynical, irresponsible, and starkly contrary to the public interest, and very much in keeping with their basic policy of institutional nihilism.

Yesterday, in an act of affected graciousness, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered to allow the debt ceiling to be raised for a couple of months, a tactic designed to perpetuate the state of uncertainty, confusion, and chaos that he and his followers have chosen to impose upon the country.

Note from The Wild West

Lauren Boebert, the notorious owner of the Shooter’s Grill, in Rifle, Colorado, and that state’s 3rd C.D, representative, is one of the most morally and intellectually unqualified members of Congress. No wonder six citizens are competing for the Democratic nomination to oppose her in next year’s election. None of them seem particularly impressive, though any one of them would be a tremendous improvement over Boebert. Boebert herself may face a primary challenge from a more moderate member of her party. It’s like an old-time Western movie out here in Colorado, except it’s a long ways from certain that the good guys will win.

A Model for Spiritual Instruction

Religions and, for that matter, secular self-improvement movements are vulnerable to being corrupted by self-seeking profiteering huckstering promoters pitching ways in which you can get ahead, feel good, and find success by following their instructions, donating to their enterprises, and enriching their promoters. The Dalai Lama is of a rarer sort. He doesn’t purport to align himself with some divine truth, catechism, sacred text, or mystical knowledge. Thus, he wrote recently, “What we need today are universal values based not on faith but on scientific findings, common experience and common sense.” How refreshing. How unpretentious. How sensible.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States begins its new term today, just after getting a supremely low approval rating from the American public –– 40%. Recently, Justice Amy Coney Barrett asserted that the Court is not just “a bunch of partisan hacks.” Even more recently, Justice Samuel Alito declared that the Court is not “a dangerous cabal.” Such defensiveness! Unfortunately, save for a minority of honorable exceptions, the reverse is true on both counts. American democracy won’t be out of the intensive care unit unless and until the Court is reconstituted as a rational non-doctrinaire decision-making body that places the law above personal ideology.

The Egoist

Democratic Senator Krysten Sinema appears to be blithely willing to torpedo president Biden’s legislative agenda and thereby facilitate Republican efforts to supplant American democracy with one-party authoritarian rule. She seems to be such an egoist that her field of vision does not extend beyond her imagined short-term personal interests. She may single-handedly take down the country, not realizing, as is typical of egoists, that in her garish self-absorption, she is taking down herself.

It’s an Old Story

1920: W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”: “The worst are full of passionate intensity.”

1955: Claude Lévi-Strauss, Triste Tropiques: “I have never known so much naive conviction allied to greater intellectual poverty.”

2021: Jennifer Rubin: “The ignorance of our elected officials is matched only by their conviction they can bamboozle their equally ignorant constituents.”

People Who Don’t Care and People Who Do

So many people are corrupt, each out for himself or herself, and the public be damned, it’s disheartening, but one can’t despair; there are even more people with noble souls who care about others, and humanity, and the world. Yesterday, I read an article by a woman who’s concerned about the water quality in our rivers. She rightly urges that we should improve them. To check out the situation first-hand, this past summer she swam in 108 rivers in the United States. She said that “most were varying degrees of disgusting.” That’s a definitive scientifically sound report in my opinion, and bad news, but it’s also uplifting to read, giving hope that people like this intrepid swimmer, people who care, may save us. 


American Democracy

American Democracy is fighting for its life. As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote the other day, “It’s now clear we have one party that would gladly swap U.S. democracy for a tin-pot dictatorship with its champion at the helm.” Democrats want to save our democracy, and they would be able to save it if two Democratic senators weren’t unwilling to reform the anti-democratic filibuster rule that’s enabling Republicans to thwart voting rights protection legislation. It seems more likely than not that a great tragedy will befall us.

A Ted Talk Worth Watching

Notice of a Ted Talk appears in my email inbox almost every day. Occasionally I watch one. I didn’t have to think twice yesterday before watching Crystia Freeland, an enormously intelligent and well-informed Canadian who tends to hold top posts in that country’s government. Her topic was The Rise of the Super Rich. The proliferation of the super rich, who tower over ordinary extremely rich people and acquire such staggering amounts of wealth that they can influence national policy is a world-wide phenomenon. Productivity trends up and up. Wages stay relatively flat. Money rules. Oligarchies arise.

The Justice Department Must Prosecute Trump

The evidence is far more than abundant that, in addition to whatever other crimes he has committed, Trump committed multiple federal and state felonies in the course of his efforts, which appear to still be ongoing, to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and effect a coup by which he would retain his office despite being voted out of it. The Justice Department must not allow itself to be intimidated by threats and bullying behavior of Trump and his supporters. We must not accept the principle of “too big to jail.” To do so would be to cede American democracy to a bunch of thugs masquerading as public servants. Attorney General Merrick Garland, despite his impeccable character, incomparable qualifications, and superb professional record, is likely to be remembered as a dismal failure if he fails to prosecute Trump.

Report from the World’s Leading Plutocracy

Big corporations and superrich donors fund politicians who reciprocate by enacting tax laws that please big corporations and superrich donors. What’s the result? White House statement: “We estimate that the 400 wealthiest families paid an average Federal individual income tax rate of 8.2 percent on $1.8 trillion of income over the period 2010–2018.” You don’t have to be an egalitarian to grasp that the superrich get away with paying a puny amount in taxes. From the perspective of anyone concerned for the common good, they should be paying a lot more.

Bottom Feeders

Gregg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, quickly acceded to disgraced former president Trump’s demand that Texas conduct an Arizona style sham audit of the Texas vote count in the 2020 presidential election even though in that election Trump won the state of Texas by a sizable margin. Of course, it’s not the result of the election Trump is questioning, it’s the electoral process itself. He is trying to inculcate in the public’s mind that elections are fraudulent by nature, which is why it would be justifiable for state officials and members of Congress to refuse to recognize presidential election results if a Democrat wins the most electoral votes in 2024. That people like Abbott and Florida governor Ron DeSantis are eager to do Trump’s bidding, regardless of how destructive and irrational an act it requires, is a marker of the base moral plane such people live on, a foul expanse inhabited by most Republican politicians and right wing media personalities.

The Tragic Transformation of the Republican Party

It should be evident to anyone who follows the course of public affairs in the United States that the unifying agenda of the Republican Party has become dedicated to obtaining and retaining power regardless of harm inflicted on the country. In furtherance of this goal, Republicans at all levels and in all branches of government have banded together to promote and practice what Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin calls “institutional nihilism.”

The Critical Importance of Federal Legislation to Reform Presidential Election Processes

The details are too complex to lay out here, but the procedures for electing the president of the United States are so misconceived, unclear, and convoluted that in certain circumstances, which it happens are likely to obtain in 2024, it’s quite possible that the party controlling Congress and key swing state legislatures and secretaries of state could install its candidate as president contrary to the electoral vote tally reflecting the will of the people. The only way we can be assured that this won’t happen is for Congress to pass remedial legislation controlling election procedures. The Proposed Freedom to Vote Act has been introduced in Congress for this purpose. All Republican members of Congress oppose it. Even though the survival of American democracy is at stake, present indications are that it won’t become law.

Notes from Surreal Land

Headline: “U.S. careens toward shutdown; financial crisis.”
News item: A study says that, if the U.S. defaults on its debt, it would trigger a financial crisis of unprecedented proportions, leading to loss of six million jobs and fifteen trillion dollars in wealth.

Classic military strategy calls for the artillery to soften up the enemy’s defenses, then send in the infantry to capture new territory. Republican strategy is based on the same idea: Create chaos to soften the ground for staging a coup and installing an authoritarian regime. The line fed the public is that things have gotten so bad that only this strong and uncompromising leader can fix it.

Taking a Close Look at a Big Number

A recent poll indicated that 78% of Republicans think that Biden stole the 2020 presidential election. That’s a proposition that, since the election, the disgraced former president and heavyweight Republican politicians and right-wing media personalities have been professing to believe in or assert is a reasonable possibility with such persistence that tens of millions of voters believe that it is, or might well be true, though there is no evidence that it is true and overwhelming evidence that it is false.

It’s so preposterous, in fact, that we can be sure that a large percentage of Republicans who answered the poll question by saying that they think Biden stole the election don’t believe any such thing, but answered in the affirmative because it’s the policy of the Republican Party and its leaders to sow doubt about the legitimacy of our electoral policies in order to justify enacting laws calculated to put Republicans in power in upcoming elections. It has become standard operating procedure for “good” Republicans to say they believe Biden stole the election even though they know he didn’t.

How a Plutocracy Works –– an Example

Most dividends on stocks, which are overwhelmingly held by the super rich, the rich, and the well-off, are taxed at an especially low rate, a sign of the pro-plutocratic tilt in our tax system. Moreover, Amazon and many other huge companies pay no dividends, so the value of shares go up because all earnings are plowed back into the company. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is worth in the neighborhood of 200 billion dollars. Only a trifle of what he has accumulated has been taxed because it’s treated as “unrealized capital gains.” If Bezos were to die, the law provides that the cost basis of his stock will be stepped up to market value, which means that his capital gains will be ignored. As Robert Reich has pointed out, this “‘stepped-up basis’ tax loophole allows heirs of billionaires to avoid capital gains taxes on inherited assets.Closing this loophole is an absolute no-brainer. But Dems on the House Ways and Means Committee wouldn’t even touch it.”

Even Democrats are reluctant to raise taxes on the rich. That’s how entrenched a plutocracy we’re in.

The Hour is Nigh

With unusual precision and clarity, an online New York Times editorial appearing yesterday laid it out: Republicans, who control most key state legislatures and state houses, rightly think that, given their stances on key issues, their chances of gaining control of Congress and the White House will be greatly diminished unless they can (i) institute voting laws designed to exclude a substantial number of voters likely to vote for Democratic candidates, and (ii) where possible, place responsibility for tabulating and certifying votes in the hands of partisan hacks who will manipulate the vote count in favor of Republican candidates.

Within the next couple of weeks, the proposed Freedom to Vote Act, introduced by Democrats and passage of which is critical to ensuring a reasonable degree of integrity in our electoral processes, will come before Congress for a vote. Since no Republican is expected to support it, there is virtually no chance it will become law unless all Democratic senators agree to modify the filibuster rule, so it can pass with a mere majority of votes rather than require 60% of them. What happens is likely to be pivotal in American history.

Changing Times

Depending on the outcome of a runoff, the next mayor of Boston will be either Michelle Wu, daughter of immigrants from Taiwan, or Essaibi George, daughter of immigrants from Tunisia and Poland. I guess this is the kind of thing that freaks out the MAGA crowd.

Notes from Surreal Land

Rachel Maddow reported that a recent poll indicated that 78% of Republicans believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Biden, up from 70% in April. This is an utterly whacko belief, right up there with the Earth is flat and not far behind the moon is made of green cheese, yet it is cultivated, perpetuated, and elaborated upon, for example with fanstastical orchestrations such as the faux audit of election results in Arizona, now being copied in other states with Republican-controlled legislatures. Our country faces multiple critical challenges. Our ability to deal with them is being hobbled by, to evoke Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming,” “the worst,” who are “full of passionate intensity.”

On Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Implying That She Is Not a Partisan Hack

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, after being introduced by no-holds-barred hyperpartisan Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at a venue named for him in Kentucky asserted that she and her high court colleagues aren’t “a bunch of partisan hacks.” This reminded me of a speech made by President Richard Nixon shortly before he was forced to resign for criminally covering up the Watergate burglary, in which he asserted that “I am not a crook.”

Criminal Politicians and Media Figures

A new study reported in The New York Times indicates that if everyone in the United States had become vaccinated as soon as they had a chance, deaths from the pandemic would be many thousands less than the 35,700 reported so far. Politicians and media figures who have discouraged people from being vaccinated or created doubt or confusion among people as to whether federally approved Covid vaccines are safe and effective (which they are), have engaged in reckless endangerment of the lives of millions of people. As I recall, in New York State, and likely in many other states, reckless endangerment is a felony, and reckless endangerment resulting in death an even more serious one.

These reckless and cynical politicians and media figures won’t be prosecuted for the deaths and suffering for which they are responsible, though in a real sense they are criminals.

Vaccine Refusers

What is one to do with these people? They are misguided. They are irrational. Some kind of fear controls their decision making. Powerful emotional forces within them are at work. The more one tries to shame them, argue with them, or coerce them, the more their fear ratchets up, the more adamant they become. One must consider that most of them are no more able to will themselves to abandon their intransigence than they would be able to shake off a Covid infection by willing it to go away.

In situations where it’s feasible, we have to offer alternatives that are emotionally acceptable to them, like weekly testing. We have to empathize with them and gently try to enlighten them and hope that they will gradually come to see that it’s in both their own self-interest and in the interest of others to do what they can to subdue the virus that is the common enemy of us all.

The Pandemic of Irrationality

News Item: A county hospital in upstate New York announced that it will have to stop delivering babies because six staffers resigned and seven more are considering resigning because they don’t want to comply with the hospital’s Covid-19 mandate.

The chief reason why freedom of speech is thought to be desirable is that in the clash of opinions and claims, truth will win out. In situations where there are rational positions to be taken on both sides or where the facts are ambiguous, falsehood may temporarily prevail, but cases where all but an insignificant number of people should readily grasp that the evidence in favor of one proposition and against an opposing one is overwhelming should be quickly resolved.

Presently, we are experiencing a pandemic of irrationality. It’s impossible to predict how long it will last, how much suffering it will produce, or how many deaths it will cause. No cure or vaccine for it has yet been found.

Children of the Same Foul Spirit

Former President George W. Bush, referring at a 9/ll memorial ceremony to the violent extremists who, stirred to action by Trump and his allies, stormed and occupied the Capitol on January 6th in an attempt to block certification of Joe Biden as president: “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit.”

Did any of the Trumpian members of Congress who opposed a Congressional investigation of the January 6 insurrection, promote the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and are working to set the stage for undermining and, if necessary, overturning the next one wince upon hearing or reading these words? I doubt it. They have already proved that they lack any such emotional capability. Like a former generation’s infamous United States senator, Joe McCarthy, they have no sense of decency. They are incapable of shame.

The Party of Nihilism

It’s not useful to pretend otherwise: Republicans have hitched their wagon to the malevolent star of Trumpism. The Republican Party has become the party of nihilism. The overarching theme of Republican policy positions is negativism. The Republican agenda, regardless of the consequences, is to undermine everything the Biden administration and Congressional Democrats are trying to accomplish. As Jennifer Rubin has pointed out in her Washington Post columns, Republicans have demonstrated that they will not change their ways unless they are enlightened by being voted out of office.

Republicans voted en masse against investigating the January 6th insurrection and attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The Republican House minority leader threatened to retaliate against companies that provide information to the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection. Republicans have undermined the Administration’s attempts to control and end the pandemic, save lives, and reduce misery. Republican have worked on every level to undermine electoral processes to their own advantage. They have demonstrated that they are not responsible opponents and critics of the Administration’s agenda and responsible proponents of alternative policies, but a destructive and dangerous menace.

Thugs

A friend forwarded to me an op-ed article that suggested that the main problem in America is stupidity. It’s true that stupidity is a big problem, but it’s less of one than either malice, cynicism, mean-spiritedness, greed (whether for money or power), or anti-social behavior to gain the approval of others in one’s cult. These are the characteristics of thugs. These are the qualities that distinguish the character of Donald Trump and his allies and followers. They are displayed in the behavior of politicians and others claiming that mask mandates and vaccination requirements are assaults on sacred values of liberty, when in fact they are sensible measures to save lives and reduce misery. They are displayed in the behavior of politicians and others who promote or acquiesce in Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen and that our electoral processes can’t be trusted and should be set aside when they say so.

Adolph Hitler was a magnet for attracting thugs during the years of the Weimar Republic. Just about every thug in Germany flocked to him. Trump unleashed the thuggish potential of millions of Americans. It’s not unlikely that as large a percentage of the population of our country are thugs or potential thugs as was the case in Germany almost a century ago. Thugs don’t normally determine the character of a nation and the course of history, but in certain circumstances they do.

Biden’s Big Infrastructure Plan

Biden’s big infrastructure plan is designed to lift our country up on all fronts. We’re long overdue for the kinds of initiatives and reforms and nudges and upgrades our country needs, big investments, for example, serious climate-change measures and expanding child care and pre-K care and education, that will yield longterm dividends. The cost, 3.5 trillion, sounds frighteningly high, but that’s the amount spread out over a 10-year period. The cost per year is only 350 billion: not that much compared to the cost of subsidizing big corporations and rich people with a rigged tax code that was enacted by legislators subsidized by big corporations and rich people, a regime that can be scaled down a lot. Even the fat cats would benefit, because they would start living in a more enlightened country and could breathe easier, literally.

A Tale of Two Neighbors

It’s ironic, or some kind of poetic justice, that the Mexican Supreme Court decriminalized abortions within days after Mexico’s Trumpian types-controlled neighbor, the former Mexican province of Texas, passed the most insidious, repressive, illegal (under federal law), and unconstitutional (because the Supreme Court has not yet overruled Roe v. Wade) anti-abortion legislation in United States history. Humanitarian values blossom in Mexico. Self-righteousness and cruelty reign in Texas.

Getting Used to It

Historically, normal early September daily high temperatures where I live, at 6,600’ altitude in southwest Colorado, are in the high seventies or low eighties. Nice. But the forecast for this week is for the high to reach 90 five days in a row. That doesn’t prove there’s global warming going on, but maybe the New York Times online video map does. You can check every day to see how smoke mostly from the California fires spreads across western United States. Of course it’s much worse near where the fires are.

You know about the frog in the pot of water that slowly gets hotter and hotter, but the frog doesn’t jump out because the pot’s heating up so slowly that the frog doesn’t notice. This may be just a story and not really true for frogs, but it does seem to be true for humans. I’ve gotten to take it for granted –– it seems perfectly normal –– that I should check the smoke forecast every morning, just the way I used to check whether it might rain today.

Labor Day Thoughts

It’s ironic that Labor Day is apparently the day unemployment revenues end for millions of people. Republicans talk as if all these people could have gotten jobs, but instead of finding work they sit around expecting and accepting free handouts. There’s a shortage of workers for many jobs, but a lot of people can’t find a job because the skills they have aren’t needed for as many jobs as they used to be, and they don’t have skills that are needed for the kind of jobs that are available. Minimum wage jobs or grueling unpleasant jobs are the only kind of jobs a lot of these people can get, and the federal minimum wage requirement has remained stagnant for decades while the rich and those with the right kind of jobs have been making a lot more and are helped in doing so by tax laws that are in many respects highly regressive and full of loopholes and breaks that favor the rich and influential, and people working at minimum wage can’t make enough to get above the poverty line, and a lot of people who have been out of work for months are shunned or ignored when they try to get a job, and a lot of people don’t get enough to eat or have been, or are in danger of being, evicted out onto the street and aren’t able to get minimally decent health care, and a lot of children are deprived of adequate educational opportunities. The problem isn’t laziness so much as it is that we live in a plutocracy, and too many people who are either mean-spirited, or selfish, or misguided are in positions of power and calling the shots.

Nightmare: A Competent Trump

From time to time I make notes for possible blogs. Sometimes they are just fragments, and I don’t draw on them for a particular blog. Some become fragments of nightmares, like this one, which followed reading the transcript of Michael Moore’s interview with the veteran journalist and Biblical scholar Chris Hedges, who rightly worries that a “competent Trump” becomes president, “a competent fascist who, when they attempt to carry out a coup, actually have organized it to make it work.”

Disaster Areas

Wind Damage, fires, and floods have resulted in various parts of the country being declared a disaster area. if this keeps up, there may be a concatenation of adverse weather events that results in the entire country being declared a disaster area. The most worrisome disaster area is American democracy itself, the latest, perhaps most disturbing indication of which is that a majority of members of the Supreme Court have subordinated fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law to their personal idealogical convictions.

The Supreme Court and American Democracy

There is an old saying: “The Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.” One always presumes that members of the Supreme Court, having been carefully vetted for character and competence and being exceptionally well schooled in the law, will do their best to interpret the Constitution with objectivity and intellectual honesty, and that, however they rule on a Constitutional or other question, it will be based on intellectually defensible reasoning. What if in some cases it isn’t? What if in the worst case, a majority of justices on the Court are of a mind to subordinate the law and the Constitution to their personal ideology? The old saying holds. There is no appeal. And when it happens, it constitutes a possibly mortal wounding of American democracy.

The Tragedy of the Republican Party is America’s Tragedy

Republicans, including the ideologically driven justices who control the Supreme Court, have abandoned all pretense of wanting to preserve American Democracy. The court rejected without comment an emergency petition challenging the new Texas statute restricting abortion that is clearly unconstitutional under existing jurisprudence and empowers self-appointed vigilantes to enforce certain provisions and awards them of bounties for doing so. The law, setting compliant citizens against noncompliant ones, is straight out of the authoritarian playbook. In a no less contemptible exhibition of authoritarian tactics, Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader of the House, warned all the companies that were requested to supply relevant information and records to the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection that, if they complied with the committee’s request, Republicans would take revenge against them if they gained control of Congress in next year’s elections.

It’s evident beyond doubt that if Republicans gain control of Congress, they will exercise no restraint in seeking to undermine our democratic principles and institutions in an effort to subject our country to unshakeable long-term one-party rule.

Explaining Behavior of Seemingly Crazy Republicans

One can understand why so many Republicans promote, or at least entertain, or at least look benignly on the Big Lie that our election processes are hopelessly flawed and that the election was stolen from Trump. The reason is that (i) it gives them cover for corrupting and contorting election processes sufficiently so they can gain control both houses of Congress in the 2022 elections and the presidency in the 2024 election, even though a majority of people wouldn’t want that to happen, and (ii) they lack sufficient character and courage to hew to the truth and uphold American democracy if it means that doing so would diminish their chances of gaining power.

That doesn’t quite explain why so many Republicans cast phony doubts on Covid vaccine and why prominent GOP governors like DeSantis (Florida) and Abbott (Texas) ban, or try to ban, mask mandates in schools and other venues, even though their efforts ensure increased spreading of the virus, more hospitalizations, and more deaths. One would think that their crazy tactics would be politically counter-productive. Why do they pursue them? I think the answer is that successfully corrupting and contorting the election process requires sowing confusion and stimulating distrust in government. The more confusion and distrust in government there is, the more likely they are to succeed in gaining power. Their seemingly crazy behavior makes perfect sense.

The Democrats’ Task

The worst thing about the messy, painful, dismaying U.S. pullout from Afghanistan may be the political damage to Biden, threatening to tip the scales against Democrats in the 2022 elections, an event from which disastrous consequences would surely ensue. That’s why it’s more important than ever that as Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has stressed, “Democrats need to do a much better job explaining how radical, unhinged and dangerous the {Republican} party is.” 

Biden’s Task

Stanford professor and former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has laid out the requirements of addressing an important opportunity and challenge Biden has with respect to Ukraine, a critically important country that Putin wants to dominate, subdue, and enfold into his empire. Ukraine has exhibited considerable resilience and independent democratic characteristics, and has a president who has learned a lot since Trump tried to get him to do him “a favor.” To save American democracy and keep alive hope for the world, Biden and his team must undertake constructive engagement and action with respect to Ukraine and on every other important front at home and abroad. Biden’s Afghanistan lapses need not be the defining mark of his presidency.

The Supreme Court and American Democracy

If Democrats get firm control of the White House and both houses of Congress (an unlikely event, though one that’s probably necessary if American Democracy is to be saved), they need to reshape the Supreme Court through legislative reforms, instituting term limits, and probably increasing its size. Their purpose in doing so would not be to politicize the judiciary. To the contrary, it would be to depoliticize the Court and rehabilitate it as an institution distinguished for its integrity, intellectual honesty, and fidelity to the Constitution and the law.

Robert Reich, in one of his acute observations on the state of our nation, has supplied the reason why this is so: “Today’s Supreme Court majority is a group of knee-jerk conservatives whose intellectual leader (to the extent they have one) is Samuel Alito, perhaps the most conceptually rigid and cognitively dishonest justice since Roger Taney.”

The Ubiquity of Religious Perversion

News Item: “Some senior members of the Buddhist clergy have given their blessing to the generals in power.”

The generals referred to seized power in Myanmar (Burma), jailed elected leaders, fired on protestors, and imposed brutal tyrannical rule on the country, the antithesis of Buddhist teachings. The episode is a reminder that no religion is exempt from perversion by sociopaths adept at twisting noble ideas and attracting followers to suit their own malevolent purposes.

Biden’s Approval Rating

Biden’s approval rating has dropped because of his lapses in planning the Afghanistan pullout. It may drop a point or two more because of the ISIS bombing yesterday that killed 13 of our troops and injured a lot more and many civilians as well.

If approval ratings were based on overall performance rather than what’s prominent in the news, Biden’s would be much higher, and if they were based on comparison with Trump or other prominent MAGA crowd-pandering Republican presidential aspirants, higher still.

The Supreme Court, the Law, and Ideology

I won’t attempt echo the assessments of distinguished legal experts set forth in major media outlets yesterday and today concerning the ruling, accompanied by an unsigned opinion, three justices dissenting, of the Supreme Court Tuesday night compelling the Biden administration to revive Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. A good example is the article in today’s Slate by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern under the heading “The Supreme Court has let a lone Trump judge take over Biden’s foreign policy.” The circumstances and history of this matter are complex and this is not the place for another account of them. I’ll simply say that this decision reveals unequivocally that all six “conservative” (i.e. right-wing) justices of the Supreme Court are driven not by their dedication to law and precedent, but by a deeply held, and in my view deeply perverse, ideology. It’s a decision that bodes ill for the future of American democracy.

Cryptocurrencies and Global Warming

Cryptocurrencies are quite the rage. I understand that they require a tremendous amount of energy. If there’s any reasonable hope of slowing global warming, carbon emissions should be taxed and carbon neutral initiatives should be subsidized, in each case in proportion to their cost or benefit to humanity. If such a policy were followed, I suspect that crypto currencies would fade away. Since such a policy is not likely to be followed, I suspect that they are here to stay.

The Most Deadly Virus

Last evening on his MSNBC news, commentary, and interview show, “All In,” Chris Hayes played a nightmare-inducing, in my case, clip showing Trump at his latest rally in which he fans the flames of hatred, ignorance, and bigotry among the delusion-driven members of his cult. This episode took place in Alabama, which is experiencing a horrifying Covid surge because of widespread vaccine reluctance. Trump said that people should get vaccinated, which elicited some gentle boos. Opposing vaccinations is a cardinal principal of Trump cult mythology. Trump realized his mistake and did his best to remedy it, reassuring the crowd: “You have your freedoms,” adding, in a sarcastic tone, “Take the vaccine. If it doesn’t work, you’ll be the first to know.” Trump continues to be a superspreader of the most deadly virus, the one that corrupts the human brain. It’s rampant in this nation. A lot of people –– including members of Congress, governors, and media figures –– engage in spreading it every day.

The Dalai Lama

Somehow, some years ago, I got on the list of people who see the Dalai Lama’s Facebook postings. I come across one every week or so. I find it instructive, inspiring, in fact, that although he is surely one of the world’s most prominent religious leaders, his teachings require no belief in the supernatural. Piety, ceremony, and faith are beside the point. A posting I read yesterday, began: “Please don’t think that compassion, love and tolerance only belong to religion. They belong to human life.”

Blotting Out Trump: A Correction

Yesterday, after reading yet more sickening accounts of the Administration’s monstrous botching of the Afghanistan pullout, I decided to reread my recent blogs on the subject and noticed something strange about my blog of August 16th, which concluded:

In an astute column in yesterday’s Washington Post, Max Boot reviewed the major blunders relating to Afghanistan made by each of Biden’s three predecessors: Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Barrack Obama, each of them appalling in their wrong-headedness, but none matching Biden’s thoughtlessness in the way he withdrew American forces without regard to the unacceptably disastrous consequences that would very likely ensue.

Checking what Mr. Boot actually wrote: –– “This was a disaster that was produced by four administrations, two Republican (George W. Bush, Donald Trump) and two Democratic (Barack Obama, Joe Biden) –– I realized that my brain inexplicably malfunctioned in blotting out Trump and, no less weird, installing Bill Clinton in his place.

Was that a Freudian slip? My unconscious desire to blot out Trump overcame rational thought?

When the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries were getting underway, I expressed the opinion that Biden was too old to be president. It may be that age was a factor in his blotting out critical facts in planning the withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan. Maybe I was right that he was too old for the job! Maybe, at 90, I’m too old to publish trustworthy blogs. I’ll leave it to readers to judge whether, whatever flaws may be visible from time to time, most of what I write makes sense.

Affordable Housing

The stalwart progressive Katrina vanden Heuval has pointed out that we have a gargantuan housing problem in the U. S. We have great numbers of people who are homeless, living in substandard housing, or for whom rent eats up an inordinate amount of their income. How do some countries deal with the housing problem? In Vienna, “two-thirds of people live in social housing –– housing built by the government where renters are charged ‘cost-rent’, or the cost of building and maintaining their units.” We could offer options like this in our country, and we would if it weren’t for powerful rich people for whom every measure for the common good is decried as rank socialism, a menace that threatens liberty, decency, and virtue of every man, woman, and child in our great land.

Biden

Like a lot of people, I’ve been critical of how Biden handled the pullout from Afghanistan. He blundered badly in failing to evacuate and grant asylum in timely fashion to people likely to be targeted by the Taliban. Republicans have been having a field day claiming that this episode is proof of Biden’s unfitness to be president.

The facts are that someone else might have made a better president, but Biden is generally very capable and he is a good and decent man, whereas the leading Republican candidates to run for president in 2024 have deomonstated their willingness to trash American democracy and substitute lies for truth. Our country is vastly better off with Biden as president than it would be with Trump or anyone who shares or tolerates Trump’s values and attitude.

Doesn’t Biden Get It Yet?

Headline: “U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan until all Americans leave, Biden says.”

Biden should have said, “U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan until, among all those who wish to leave the country, all Americans, all those of whatever nationality who aided American forces, and all others who face reprisals from the Taliban have been given the opportunity to leave the country and enabled to find safe haven in the United States or elsewhere.”

Biden’s Blunder and the 2022 Elections

Regardless of whether one thinks Biden was right or wrong in pulling troops out of Afghanistan, his execution of that decision was irrefutably awful. It may turn out to be the political gift Republicans needed to gain control of Congress in 2022, enabling them to weaken democratic institutions sufficiently to gain longterm one-party rule, which would be a signigicantly worse tragedy in the course of world history than the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan.

Biden and Afghanistan

Perhaps belatedly understanding the magnitude of his error in failing to ensure the safe exodus of people who have aided the United States before he drew down our armed forces in Afghanistan, Biden has dispatched enough troops to secure the Kabul airport for a limited length of time. This should permit more people who are targeted for death or brutal persecution by the Taliban to find asylum in the United States or elsewhere. In his speech yesterday, Biden said that he was persuaded not to evacuate these people before drawing down troops in part because the Afghan leadership warned that it would be bad for morale and in part because some people were reluctant to leave. Neither of these reasons is in the least convincing. I think Biden was gripped by an idée fixe, an overwhelming impulse to end the war and bring our troops home that crowded other thoughts out of his mind. I think of him as a good, and in many respects capable, man who has often exhibited flawed judgment.

Afghanistan

The rapid-fire fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban yesterday was the most sickening news development since the election of Trump to the presidency, which in turn was the most sickening news development since 9/11 and the “preventative war” against Iraq that followed it.

The baleful ramifications of Biden’s miscalculation regarding Afghanistan may embolden propagandistic disinformation machines: Biden lied to us about Afghanistan; what makes you think he isn’t lying to us about vaccines, or about claiming that he didn’t steal the election. Loss of faith in Biden’s judgment could be the tipping point that enables Republicans to take control of Congress in 2022, which in turn could lead to the conversion of our country from a democracy to authoritarian rule.

In an astute column in yesterday’s Washington Post, Max Boot reviewed the major blunders relating to Afghanistan made by each of Biden’s three predecessors: Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Barrack Obama, each of them appalling in their wrong-headedness, but none matching Biden’s thoughtlessness in the way he withdrew American forces without regard to the unacceptably disastrous consequences that would very likely ensue.

Correction: The above blog contains an inexplicable error, which I comment on in my blog of August 22.

Global Warming; Notes from the Field

Headline: “British Columbia battles 300 wildfires at once.” I used to think of Washington and Oregon as being cool and wet in the summer compared to most of the country. I knew that a current of arctic origin flows south along the Pacific Coast, causing ocean water in the vicinity of San Francisco to be considerably colder than off beaches at comparable latitudes on the east coast. I assumed that British Columbia, which lies north of Washington State, would be even more reliably cool and wet. This summer will be remembered for floods and fires, and so may most of the next ones.

The United States Needs a Much More Progressive Tax System

I read some months ago that the new federal stimulus law that temporarily increased the child tax credit had cut child poverty in half. The cost of this was quite large, but very much smaller than the amount of revenue that could be raised by making our tax system only moderately more progressive.

Rich people would be happier if their mindsets were such that they gained greater satisfaction knowing that they had contributed to the elimination of child poverty (giving every child access to a nourishing diet, health care, and educational opportunity) rather than further increasing their wealth and material possessions.

The House Select Committee’s Task

As Jennifer Rubin pointed out in one of her Washington Post columns yesterday, the scope of the House select committee’s investigation of the January 6th Insurrection has been expanded to include the plot to overturn the 2020 election and keep Trump in the White House. The two are intertwined, the Insurrection being a last ditch effort after all other illegal methods for keeping Trump in power had failed.

Trump Must Be Criminally Prosecuted

In our legal system, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and Trump deserves that presumption just as much as anyone else. But the evidence against him, including his own words and actions, in plotting to nullify the election and inciting the January 6 Insurrection is in plain sight. The evidence is so manifest, so overwhelming, that it would be a monumental affront to justice to let him escape prosecution.

The only reason for the Justice Department not to prosecute Trump is the risk that large numbers of his ideologically driven supporters –– many of them heavily armed –– would resort to violence in an effort to derail the workings of justice. It’s all but certain that Trump would encourage them to do so.

To refrain from prosecuting Trump out of fear would be to abandon the principle that no one is above the law and would invite further attempts to replace American democracy with authoritarian rule. Remember: Our country is the land of the free and the home of the brave. No one, least of all the attorney general of the United States, should be intimidated by a bunch of thugs.

Saying a Lot with Few Words

U Cal Berkeley Professor Robert Reich is a master of social and economic statistics, and a master at juxtaposing them to make a powerful powerful point. Few words are needed, as, for example, in his recent Facebook posting; “I will never be satisfied with a system that enables 713 billionaires to add 1.8 trillion dollars to their wealth in 16 months, but doesn’t raise the $7.25 minimum wage for 12 years.” A single sentence is all that’s needed to cast a glaring light on the extreme income and wealth inequality in our country.

The Challenge That Must Be Met

Goaded, bullied, and encouraged by Trump, all but a few Republicans assented to, and in many cases abetted, his attempt to overturn the election and perpetuate his presidency in classic authoritarian style. As Jennifer Rubin has written, “Quite plainly, with a House majority in hand, the GOP in 2024 could run a more sophisticated rerun of Jan 6 to install a MAGA president — regardless of the voting outcome.” This is the prime challenge our country faces. We can only hope, and work, to meet it.

Ignorance, Resentment, Megalomania, Greed, and Democracy

A lot Trump supporters believe the phony arguments about how the election was stolen. A lot of seditious-prone individuals think that they are like heroes of the American Revolution. A lot of them can’t grasp the distinction between the noble principles that guided George Washington and the megalomaniacal sense of entitlement that guides Donald Trump.

The result of this tragic state of mass ignorance, coupled with stoked-up resentment, coupled with the shameless opportunism and power hunger of Republicans in positions of power and their super rich backers and media allies is a state of affairs in which, as Jennifer Rubin wrote the other day, “Republicans are the immediate threat to our democracy.”

If we survive this immediate threat, Rubin says, “the longer-term problem of civic illiteracy remains. If Democrats do not champion American democratic values, Republicans will continue to trample them.”

Climate Change –– Notes from the Field

This particular apocalypse is happening in slow motion, though in faster slow motion than expected. It’s a bit unsettling to see that our local weather forecast for the last two days hasn’t been something like “fair and warmer” or “likely showers,” but simply “smoke.”

The smoke here mostly comes from fires burning in west coast states, on average roughly a thousand miles away from us. The forecast may be “smoke” for sizable areas of the country for the next month or more. This morning a nearby ridge looked like it was veiled by gauze. I’m guessing that the health effects of breathing outside are similar those from smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Closer to the fires, two packs. At least most people don’t do that anymore.

The Republicans’s Plan To Steal the 2024 Presidential Election

Of course, they may not need to steal it. Their candidate might prevail by getting the most electoral votes in a reasonably fair election. But fueled by extreme right-wing super rich mega donors, and under color of processes that are nominally legal, Republicans plan to have their candidate installed as president even if they lose the electoral college vote, which is how our presidential elections are supposed to be decided, rather than by the popular vote, even though elections are thereby tilted in favor of Republicans.

In Chris Hayes’s MSNBC news and commentary show last evening, Hayes and his guest, a specialist in election law, laid out how this could happen. That such a thing is possible has largely to do with the byzantine interplay of federal and state constitutions and laws in America’s patchwork federal system and is too complex to describe here, but the threat is real. It’s far from certain that American democracy will survive through 2025.

Trump Should Be Held To Account, Continued

In a Washington Post opinion piece yesterday, Laurence Tribe and two other distinguished law professors, Joyce White Vance and Barbara McQuade, urged the Justice Department to initiate, if it hasn’t already done so, a criminal investigation of the “former president’s dangerous course of conduct.”

Some observers have expressed fear that Attorney General Merrick Garland has been holding back from investigating the former president because he is fixated on appearing to be nonpartisan. The authors of this piece make clear that the danger of giving a pass to presidents whose criminal behavior undermines and threatens our national stability and democratic form of government would encourage a repeat of such behavior. Let’s hope Garland won’t be deterred by anticipation of the howls, accusations, and vicious slurs certain to issue forth from the Trump cult, if Garland refuses to indulge Trump’s fantasy that he is above the law.

Trump Should Be Held To Account

Trump should be criminally prosecuted in a number of jurisdictions on a number of grounds. Whether that will happen is doubtful. In any case, as Robert Reich points out, Trump should be barred from holding office under section 3 of the 14th amendment to the Constitution on the ground that he “engaged in an insurrection” against the United States. Reich says that Attorney General Merrick Garland should issue an advisory opinion clearly stating this. There is a plethora of evidence incriminating Trump on this score, most recently the revelation that on December 27th he called the acting attorney general and told him: “Just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me.”

The Badly Weakened Infrastructure Bill

If, as is possible, the roughly one trillion dollar infrastructure bill passes, it will be celebrated as a great triumph of bipartisan achievement. In actuality it’s a travesty of that. As Katrina vanden Hueval pointed out in a column in yesterday’s Washington Post, Republicans succeeded in excising critically important provisions: “funding for research and development, for U.S. manufacturing, for public housing, schools and child-care centers, for home and community-based care, . . .for clean-energy tax credits,{and it cut} proposed funding for public transit by half, for electric vehicles by 90 percent and for broadband by a third.”

Not all Democratic senators, much less any Republicans, understand that evading or eliminating the filibuster is critical to the viability of our country and American democracy.

The Plotters

Three-quarters of a century ago, home-grown demagogues, most notably Senator Joe McCarthy, raised a hue and cry that Soviet agents and American communists were plotting to turn the United States into a communist nation. The danger of that happening was between negligible and nonexistent. Today, as described by the investigative reporter Jane Mayer, in The New Yorker, some extremely rich people are plotting to convert American democracy into a Putin-style, oligarch-friendly, authoritarian form of government. This time, given the movement’s support by the majority of members of the Republican party, insidiously powerful and effective elements in the right-wing media, and widespread susceptibility to contemporary techniques of disseminating and replicating destructive propaganda, the danger is between substantial and critical.

Free and Fair Elections Are Critical to Preserving Democracy

Amazingly, there seems to be a chance –– only a chance, but a fairly good one –- that a bipartisan infrastructure bill will be passed: Enough Republicans realize that upgrading our infrastructure is critically important. The trouble is that no Republican senators are willing to support federal legislation to counter new laws in Republican-controlled key states that are designed to tilt elections in favor of Republican candidates. Ensuring free and fair elections is the most important issue facing our country. Every Democratic senator must understand this principle, and be willing to put all other considerations aside to ensure that effective federal voting rights legislation is enacted.

Republican Strategy

The strategy of the vast majority of Republican office holders and their media confederates is evident from their behavior. As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin recently explained, their denial of scientific truths, their baseless attacks on experts even though they result in more deaths from the coronavirus, their vicious attacks on elements of the media that don’t support their false narratives, and their continuing promotion of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen are “all attempts to exhaust the public’s trust and capacity for rational judgment.”

No One in a Democracy Is above the Law

News Item: “The Treasury Department must turn over six years of former President Donald J.Trump’s tax returns to House investigators, the Justice Department said in a legal opinion issued on Friday.”

Vladimir Putin is above the law. Xi Jinping is above the law. Trump wants desperately to be above the law. Thankfully, it looks
increasingly likely that this won’t happen.

Fair and Balanced Reporting

I hope that Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, who wrote about the matter yesterday, stirred some journalists into giving more thought to what fair and balanced reporting requires: For example, it does not require –– it does not permit –– saying, “{A named politician} says that there are real concerns about fraud in the 2020 elections that need to be investigated.” Since the record is clear that all such concerns are baselessly fabricated and bear no relation to the truth, the statement is not worth reporting, or if it is reported, being fair and balanced requires stating that the statement is false. The news involved is not that there may be a genuine issue as to fraud, as the statement suggests, it’s that a particular politician chose to make a false statement. A fair and balanced report of this event would place it in the context of Republicans’s concerted attempts to mislead the public.

The Spirit of the Republican Party

Chris Hayes has tried to pinpoint the spirit of the Republican Party: it’s cruelty. He showed some clips to back up this assertion, including one that showed a right-wing media persnality savagely criticizing Simone Biles for dropping out of the Olympics: she was weak; she let America down; etc. I suspect that this character feels inadequate to the core. Criticizing someone who is a great athlete and a lovely sensitive human being is his way of trying to prop up his battered ego. He likely has a population of regular listeners who are as mean-spirited as he is. Trump epitomizes this malevolent strain of personality and cultivated it in others. People like that can’t feel shame, an emotion that never seeps into the narcissistic bubble they inhabit and are helpless to escape.

Is this really the spirit of the Republican Party? Maybe it’s not, but it’s certainly pervasive among a lot of Republican office holders, media people, and their supporters.

Notes from Surreal Land, continued

Yesterday, the Justice Department, led by attorney general Merrick Garland, took a stand in defense of the real. In its brief filed in federal court, the Department stated that it “cannot conclude that {Republican Congressman Mo} Brooks was acting within the scope of his office or employment as a Member of Congress at the time of the incident out of which the claims in this case arose,” and that “inciting or conspiring to foment a violent attack on the United States Congress is not within the scope of employment of a Representative—or any federal employee.”

Brooks’s claim to the contrary was surreal. That there was any doubt that it would be rejected was surreal. It’s astonishing enough that Garland’s phrasing of the Department’s statement –– “we cannot conclude that . . . “ sounded as if he had tried to agree with Brroks’s argument, but just couldn’t do it. Another, no less honorable, attorney general might have treated it with scorching contempt, which is what it deserved. But that’s not Garland’s way, which may be just as well. It’s not a bad philosophy to cast as much light with as little heat as possible.

Notes from Surreal Land

Jennifer Rubin reported that today, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, “the Justice Department and the House of Representatives will file briefs explaining to a federal court whether each believes that Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) was acting within the scope of his employment when he allegedly incited the violent attack on the Capitol and sought to subvert the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6.”

This is more surreal than any of the surreal events I’ve yet commented on. That anyone could question whether such activity could be within the scope of “official duties” is both bizarre in the extreme and very disturbing. If I find out what happened in this matter, I’ll report on it tomorrow.

Protecting Voting Rights

In a thoroughgoing review yesterday of President Biden’s remarks concerning the necessity of federal legislation to protect voting rights against the assaults mounted in key states controlled by Republicans, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin rightly dismissed anyone’s hopes that support could be found on the part of ten Republican senators, which is what would be required if the filibuster rule is allowed to remain intact. She warned against imagining that “passing a big economic agenda, coupled with super-duper organizing, is enough for Democrats to keep the House and Senate in 2022,” and that to rely on such a strategy is to take “an enormous risk and disregards the potential of Republicans attempting to overturn election results.” American democracy remains in deep peril.

Extreme Income and Wealth Inequality

It’s a bad sign that income and wealth inequality have become increasingly extreme in our country. In one of his recent Facebook posts, Robert Reich noted that the net worth of the richest 1% of the population is $41.52 trillion and the net worth of least rich 50% is $2.62 trillion. Imagine that the total amount of wealth in our country were the same as it is now, but our tax and subsidy system and social policies had been such that the richest 1% had only $38.9 trillion instead of $41.52 trillion and the least rich had $5.24 trillion instead of $2.62 trillion. The wealth of the least rich 50% would have doubled, making a huge difference in their lives, and the wealth of the richest 1% would have been reduced by an amount that would in no case result in more than a minor, albeit for many of them annoying, inconvenience. Our society would be healthier for it.

Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance

Tax avoidance is taking advantage of provisions in the tax law that enable one to legally pay lower taxes. Tax evasion is criminal violation of provisions in the tax law, resulting in lower taxes being paid than should be. At the behest of rich donors to their political campaigns, politicians holding office (mostly Republicans) have succeeded in weaving many provisions into the Internal Revenue Code that provide their supporters with numerous avenues for tax avoidance. That’s what people like Senator Elizabeth Warren are talking about when they say the system is “rigged.”

Republicans in Congress evidently think that the system isn’t rigged enough. Of course they would never advocate tax evasion, as distinguished from tax avoidance, but they strenuously oppose providing the Internal Revenue Service with sufficient funds to adequately enforce the tax laws, even though it’s incontrovertible that doing so would discourage tax evasion and would bring a high return on investment that would materially help finance government expenditures and reduce the government’s annual deficit.

A Salute to Nancy Pelosi

Republican politicians and propagandists revile Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi because she is such an intelligent, decent, and effective leader. I watched her on television yesterday making the case for a thorough investigation of the January 6th insurrection and attempt to overturn the election of Joe Biden as president. She spoke plainly, truthfully, and rationally, without rancor, rhetorical flourish, or partisan heat. The contrast between her and bombastic, duplicitous, mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing, grandstanding of dishonorable characters like Republican Senate Minority Leader Kevin Minority or the Fox News propagandist Tucker Carlson –– and I regret to say those two could be just the beginning of a long list of prominent Trumpian type Republicans –– couldn’t be more clear.

We Can Run from Global Warming But We Can’t Escape

A few weeks ago, when it was really really hot in southwestern Colorado, even at 6,600’ elevation, where I live, I thought, Where would be a good place to move to, at least theoretically? I settled on Montana, near the Canadian border, about 12 degrees of latitude farther north and near Glacier National Park. That sounded cool. That was then, but now we’re getting showers here and tolerable summer temperatures, but it’s been in the high nineties in northern Montana. Cross that off the list. On TV last evening I saw that visibility in the New York City area was markedly reduced by smoke. An animated map showed it mostly came from Manitoba or thereabouts. Meanwhile, our government is struggling to deal with imperatives and crises. I’m in awe of all the good people trying to right wrongs and make the world a better place, but so many people are cynical or nihilistic or self-obsessed –– I could name a couple of dozen public figures without taking a breath. It’s a huge challenge trying to save American democracy, much less the planet, and no, Mr. Bezos, we can’t escape into space.

Biden after Six Months

In a Washington Post column well worth reading this morning, Jennifer Rubin provides a clear-headed commentary on Biden’s performance during his first six months in office. It’s been generally excellent, though not free of lapses and serious concerns. We have been spared the horror of a second Trump term in office, but his malevolent spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of all but a handful of Republicans, whose control of key state governments, coupled with the perverseness of key members of Congress, bodes ill for the land.

Trump’s Pinch Hitter

At a recent meeting of C-Pac, the primary doctrinal testing ground and core ideological tuning component of the Republican Party, the overwhelming favorite for a pinch hitter if (God forbid) the party’s 2024 presidential nominee has to be someone other than the sociopathic former president was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. No wonder! DeSantis has displayed insuperable credentials as a Trump-class crude and irredeemably unprincipled demagogue by such behavior as offering in his campaign fundraising operation merchandise emblazoned with the slogan “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”

Gaining Perspective

It must have been a heady experience for billionaire Richard Branson, flying to “the edge of space,” and probably will be for superbillionaire Jeff Bezos, who is expected to get even higher this week. Branson says he would like it if everyone in the world could fly into space. Robert Reich says, “Can we please start with everyone having access to health care?” I think the problem is that getting very rich tends to distort one’s thinking, like being on drugs. You can lose perspective, and you can’t regain it by looking down from 55 miles up in the extremely thin air.

Truth, Justice, and Republicans

Back in radio days, there was a popular crime series titled “Mr. District Attorney.” As I remember, the program began with the title character promising, in ringing tones, to uphold “truth, justice, and the American Way.” If Republicans succeed in their efforts to so warp our electoral processes that they can achieve long-term, one-party, authoritarian rule, the district attorney would have to decide whether to fight for truth and justice or the American way, which would have become the GOP’s way, described recently by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin as “horrifying in its contempt for truth, disdain for democracy and embrace of racism.”

The Gathering Storm, Continued

If, as appears likely, Democrats are unable to pass federal legislation to contravene laws enacted in Republican-controlled states designed to undermine voting rights and integrity of elections, can Democrats rely on the courts to protect such blatant assaults on basic constitutional rights? One would think so, but it doesn’t look likely. In an interview with Chris Hayes, former attorney general Eric Holder, speaking of the Supreme Court, commented,“I think we need to be very worried about this court. They have demonstrated an ideological distaste for protecting the right to vote.”

The Gathering Storm

The heading for my blog today is the title of Volume One of Winston Churchill’s six-volume history of World War II. It’s also an apt title to describe the present political situation in the United States. In a searing column that appeared in last evening’s online Washington Post, Paul Waldman recounted a conversation he had with Yale historian Timothy Snyder, an expert on how authoritarian factions have toppled democracies. Snyder noted that the January 6th insurrection was a failed coup, and that “a failed coup is practice for a successful coup.” The evidence is overwhelming that Republicans are gearing up to take power in 2024 even if they lose the election. They’re setting the stage for it. They control the governments of critical swing states, and they have the power to enact laws that have the effect of controlling election outcomes. They’re doing just that, and they’ll get away with it unless they’re blocked by federal legislation to protect voting rights. As of this writing, it doesn’t look likely that Democrats can get any such legislation passed by the senate. The storm clouds are gathering in our country. They are growing darker and drawing closer.

Election Rigging and Its Consequences

Washington Post opinion column headline this morning: “Democrats will lose if they don’t prevent the rigging of our elections.”
    This might just as well have read: “Democracy will lose if Democrats can’t prevent the rigging of our elections.”
    Or, more to the point: “Democracy will be lost if Democrats can’t prevent the rigging of our elections.” This is evident, because, if Republicans are able to gain control of the federal government by rigging elections, they will use that power to rig them even more decisively in the future.

The Effects of Drought and Heat in the West

News Item: ” As of Monday, 59 large fires have burned 863,976 acres across the country this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.”

One of the pleasures of living in Colorado is looking at the landscape. A short walk from our house brings into view a cluster of mountains that rise well above the timber line. They’re between about ten and thirty miles distant, but are sharply defined and decked with snow most of the year. Since we returned here from travels ten days ago, the mountains appear as if seen through a thin layer of gauze. Throughout western United States, this summer, visibility is reduced by the countless smoke particles in the air. I’ve seen a video simulation of how smoke drifts downwind from fires. Sometimes I can smell the smoke; sometimes not.

Spacey Competition

There was quite a hoopla yesterday when billionaire Richard Branson and some others flew in a special plane that went as high as 53 miles above sea level, to “the edge of space.” That compares with the paltry six or seven miles above sea level most of us have ever gone riding in commercial jets. Branson accomplished this feat nine days ahead of when billionaire Jeff Bezos expects to fly to “the edge of space” in his special plane. You might think that therefore Branson won this important competition, but don’t be so sure! Officials at Bezos’s company claim that “the edge of space” only begins 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, and that Bezos’s special plane will get that far, but Branson’s didn’t. To put it all in perspective: The first people to reach the moon got there over fifty years ago, and the moon is about 239,938 miles farther above sea level than either Branson or Bezos are going. I’m reminded of the limerick, “You can tell the men from the boys by the price of their toys.”

Robert Draper: To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq

This would be at the top of my list of books all policy makers should read, a lucid account of one of the most notable American tragedies in a long succession of them. I remember in the months after 9/11 shuddering upon hearing about the need for a “preventive war,” how our military could produce “shock and awe,” the desirability of torturing prisoners, and the “mission accomplished.” Today, our country is locked in internal confrontations, confrontations with other nations, and confrontations with nature. What tragedies lie ahead?

American Democracy and the Political Reality

Yesterday, Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman laid out the political reality: (i) By 2022, Republican-controlled legislatures in key states will have enacted laws that will make it much harder for Democrats to win elections; (ii) With the help of two complicit Democratic senators, Republicans have blocked passage of federal legislation that would protect voting rights; and (iii) a solid majority of ideologically driven justices of the Supreme Court have demonstrated that they won’t invalidate state-enacted laws relating to the electoral process. As a result, Democrats will have to make prodigious efforts to have a chance of stopping Republicans from taking control of Congress in 2022 and the presidency in 2024. If Democrats fail to win this uphill battle, Republicans will likely be able to rig the system even more tightly in their favor and achieve long-term one-party minority rule, thereby supplanting American democracy with an authoritarian form of government.

Afghan Translators

Afghan translators and their families and others who helped U.S. forces are slated for death at the hands of the Taliban. Biden has promised to protect them and welcome them to the U.S. The idea is to fly them to Guam for processing and grant them asylum here. But will the U.S. be able to make good on this promise? I read that 90% of U.S. forces have already been withdrawn. Just as an honorable captain of a sinking ship doesn’t leave it until all the passengers and crew are in the lifeboats, so U.S. forces shouldn’t leave Afghanistan until all Afghans who aided us are on their way to a safe haven.

The Competition with China

America is locked in competition with China, which threatens to surpass us economically, technologically, and militarily. China has a tightly controlled authoritarian form of government. The U.S. has a semi-functional semi-democratic form of government. In the U.S. liberty is the primary value. In China, submission to its ruler is the primary value. Some Republicans are suggesting that to prevail over China, the U.S. must be governed the way China is. They don’t seem to realize that becoming like China is losing to China.

Notes from Surreal Land

Washington Post columnist Max Boot reports that “86 percent of Democrats have gotten at least one vaccine shot, compared with only 45 percent of Republicans,” and that “47% of Republicans say they likely won’t get vaccinated, compared with only 6 percent of Democrats.”

It’s one thing for Republicans to promulgate the massive false narrative that the election was stolen –– it’s malevolent, but at least it’s rational, because it’s necessary to achieving their goal of transforming America from a constitutional democracy to one-party authoritarian rule –– but it’s another thing to promulgate a massive false narrative that is certain to result in many more Republicans getting sick and dying of Covid-19 than Democrats. That’s both malevolent and irrational.

Six Months after the Insurrection

Six months after the January 6th insurrection, American democracy is like a prizefighter reeling from a telling blow, struggling to shake off brain fog and stay upright. All but a handful of Republicans have subscribed to a false narrative about the election and the insurrection. Let’s hope that the select committee constituted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will shine a bright light on the facts and that American democracy will still be standing at the end of the round. We have entered the age in which one of our two major political parties has renounced the American compact and seeks to convert our government to one-party authoritarian rule.

Road Report

Sara and I returned to Durango, Colorado, yesterday after driving six days from eastern Long Island, visiting relatives along the way. Notable were the tremendous numbers of trucks on the highways, the haze that hangs over much of the landscape, and, in Colorado, the destruction of spruce forests by beetles that flourish in the warmer dryer conditions. My most vivid visual memory, formed in eastern Colorado, fifty miles east of where the Rocky Mountains begin to loom through the haze to the west, is of a gently rising grassy green slope culminating in a distant ridge graced with power-generating windmills with immense, slowly turning, arms. Later we pass some, close by on either side. I think they are beautiful and wonder whether my esthetic judgment is affected by associating them with efforts to slow global warming.

Blog Break

Tavelling for a few days –– driving west to Colorado. This blog will resume on July 5.

A General Feeling of Disquietude, continued.

Also contributing to my feeling of disquietude is the high percentage of Americans who are inlined to follow an authoritarian figure and reject democratic values, more so, apparently, than in other Western democracies. This tendency is linked to the powerful influence of America’s version of evangelical Christianity, aspects of which are strikingly antithetical to Jesus’s teachings. Submitting to a higher authority is an easy path for some people to take, so that even if means being loyal to someone like Trump, it’s justifiable, a perversion of the idea that God works his will in mysterious ways.

A General Feeling of Disquietude

That’s what I have, and am trying to figure out what’s causing it. I selected the following: the fact that a substantial percentage of Americans are people driven by resentment, are receptive to propaganda and conspiracy theories, have no sense of caring about the common good, and are so numerous that unprincipled politicians and media personnel pander to them, encourage their fantastical thinking, and court their money and their votes; that democracy is being beaten into insensibility, in China and Russia, of course, but is on the ropes even in India, Brazil, and elsewhere, and is at grave peril in our own beleaguered country; the fact that the most reliably cool part of the United States, the Pacific Northwest, is experiencing temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, in some places in excess of 110, providing the clearest sign I’ve seen yet that humanity is headed toward self-extinction. I’m sure there are other elements of my general feeling of disquietude, but I’ve yet to pin them down. I must reflect some more.

The U.S. Intelligence Report about UFOs

U.S. Intelligence released a report on UFOs (now called unidentified aerial objects) after studying numerous sightings of them over the past few years, mostly apparently by Navy pilots. Some sightings have been confirmed to be optical illusions; some may be more in the nature of pranks; others maybe something else. Among the something else categories are craft sent by advanced alien civilizations based elsewhere in the galaxy. If so, so far, at least, they haven’t harmed any Earthlings, and the right attitude toward them, I maintain, is to let them have their fun,

Why Republicans Resort to Promoting Lies and Voter Suppression

Sometimes one comes across a brief observation that has great explanatory power. This happened to me yesterday when I read this one by someone named Tressis McMillan Cotton: “An intellectually impotent ideology and party –– when it cannot win, it will cheat.”

Investigating the Jan. 6th Insurrection

Republicans shamefully blocked establishment of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6th Insurrection, including Trump’s role in inciting it. Attorney General Merrick Garland, concerned about appearing to be politically motivated, shied away from initiating a Justice Department investigation. Accordingly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that the House will form a select committee to conduct such an investigation, breathing life into our imperiled democracy.

“Merrick Garland is the wrong man for the job.”

This is the heading of one of Jennifer Rubin’s online Washington Post columns yesterday. It reflects a highly important unfortunate situation: No one was more qualified to be attorney general of the United States than Merrick Garland. After witnessing the subjugation of the Justice Department to the self-serving will of the sociopathic former president, and how the Department became sullied by corruption, bad faith, politicization, and unethical conduct on the part of Trump DOJ appointees and complicit subordinates, Garland resolved that not only would he adhere to the highest standards of conduct, but that he would make every effort to avoid any taint of politicalization, a stance that bespeaks his impeccable character and professionalism, but amounts to sweeping under the rug gross wrongdoings during the Trump administration, which, if the health of our democracy is to be restored, must be brought to light. 

The Tilted Political Playing Field

Republican-controlled state governments have instituted laws and procedures that will have the effect of tilting elections in favor of Republican candidates. Republican senators have succeeded in blocking passage of federal legislation that would contravene these brazenly antidemocratic authoritarian-inspired measures. As a result, the federal elections playing field has become tilted in favor of Republicans. Democrats are substantially less likely to be victorious in the 2022 and 2024 elections. Trump is fading away, but so is American democracy.

Will Attorney General Merrick Garland Do the Most Important Part of His Job?

A full and unflinching investigation of egregious instances of the politicalization of the Justice Department during the Trump years is one of the requisites to restoring the health of our democracy. Merrick Garland, the superbly qualified new Attorney General, seems to be shying away from any action, whether justified or nor, that would give Republicans and right-wing media talking points for accusing him of waging a campaign of retribution against Trump appointees. If Garland has elevated bipartisanship and collegiality above the interests of justice and the preservation of our democracy, it’s lamentable. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in one of her Washington Post columns yesterday, “Refusing to learn about the events of the past four years amounts to endorsement of their misdeeds. We cannot restore the {Department of Justice} to its former stature by giving miscreants a pass.”

Happy Summer Solstice

The solstice may seem like an inadequate excuse to be happy, but any port in a storm, I say.

I notice this blog has been less “daily” lately. That’s because I’m visiting family and have been drawn into an unaccustomed whirlwind of activity, leaving little space in my head for contemplation of public and international affairs; not that a lot doesn’t weigh on my mind, for example, will most of the country west of the continental divide be smoky all summer?

The Power Player and the Compromiser

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the senate, who is the most powerful Republican politician not counting the ghost of Donald Trump, is determined to block every piece of legislation the Biden administration advances, regardless of whether doing so would be good for our country or not. That’s because McConnell doesn’t care a whit about our country. He only cares about gaining and solidifying power. Nearly all his Republican colleagues follow his lead. After rejecting his own party’s position on voting rights legislation, Democratic senator Joe Manchin, a great believer in bipartisanship, advanced a compromise and persuaded some Republican senators to endorse it. Predictably, McConnell rejected it. Attempting to reach a bipartisan consensus would contravene his basic credo: Block everything Democrats want.

Will Manchin learn from this the limits of “bipartisanship?
My guess is that he will, but pretend he hasn’t.

The Most Important News Every Day

The media reports the current events daily, but far more important than the latest news, whatever it may be, is the old news, evidence for which keeps piling up, that with near unanimity Republicans have decided that they can’t gain control of the federal government through democratic processes and that their only hope for gaining and retaining power is to use every means possible to turn American democracy into one-party authoritarian government, a goal they are tirelessly working to achieve. It’s news that, given its importance, warrants a large-type, bold-faced banner headline every single day.

Summer Reading

I’m traveling and Sara and I are hanging out for most of June near the beach on the east end of Long Island. it’s hard to hard to work on the science fiction novel I’m writing in these circumstances, so I’m taking a break for “summer reading.” A book that’s sat on the edge of my consciousness for many decades is Jack Kerouak’s “On the Road,” written in the time of the hippies, the 1960s, I think. I got a copy, expecting just to read a bit of it to satisfy my curiosity and am finding it very engaging. Kerouak doesn’t bother much with paragraphing, much less division into chapters –– his narration just flows along. The events described are mundane, the characters unremarkable, but the book evokes life as it’s lived by a lot of people, a series of things that, with variations, keep happening day after day and what your reaction is to them, when you have a reaction rather than just having them wash over you. I’ve grown to think that being sensitive and attuned to and observing nature is important, so I’m rereading Annie Dillard’s” A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” She lived alone for a while in a cabin near a water course of that name in the mountainous part of Virginia. She’s an observer par excellence and a very good writer to boot. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for general non fiction the year it was published, about four or five decades ago. Next up, one just published: mathematician Joran Ellenberg’s “Shape –– The Hidden Geometry that’s the Basis of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else.” Intriguing!

End Destitution in the United States

I favor medicare for all and for having the U.S. government pay everybody enough monthly income so that, if that is your only income and even if you have little or no assets, you’ll still be able to eat enough to stay nourished and have shelter from the elements –– enough so that many may still be very poor, no one will be left destitute. This program can be financed by a much more progressive and effective tax system, including closing tax loopholes and rigorously enforcing laws relating to collection of taxes.

It is said that in such a society, a large percentage of people would take the money and sit around and contribute nothing to society rather than work. This would not be the case, because this minimum income would be like social security income. Any income anyone can make from work would be added to it rather than substituted for it. Only an insignificant percentage of people would choose to be indolent and remain in impoverished circumstances rather than work and achieve greater economic flexibility. Such people are almost invariably incapable for one reason or another of contributing to society in any case.

It is also said that those who can contribute a lot to society would lose incentive to work and be creative if they had to pay significantly more in taxes. This not the case: Truly creative and productive people are ones who are motivated by inner drive to be creative and productive. They don’t yearn to do nothing but slouch around in comfortable circumstances just because they can’t get much richer anymore than impoverished people yearn to slouch around in shabby circumstances just because they won’t go to bed cold and hungry.

Unfortunately, it would take considerable enlightenment on the part of the public and policy makers –– a revolution of desires –– for such a transformation of our society to be achieved.

The Super Rich and the System

In her New York Times column today, Maureen Dowd rightly rails over the extent to which the super rich avoid taxes. They get away with it thanks to politicians whose political campaigns they finance and provisions in the Internal Revenue Code drafted by lobbyists they hire. It’s disgusting, and the same can be said about those who are content to perpetuate it.

Legend on a Bumper Sticker: Just Be Nice

You can’t distill all the wisdom in the world into
three words, but this is a good try.

Trends

News Item: “Water levels {in Lake Mead} have fallen140 feet since 2000, leaving the reservoir 36 percent full.”

Headline: “Record heat forecast in the Southwest next week, and worsening drought.”

Cmmentary: “The billionaires got a lot richer during the pandemic.”

Editorial Heading: “The Myanmar military government imprisoned 50 journalists — including two Americans.” 

Tax Policy

Columnist’s Headline: “Think twice before changing the tax rules to soak billionaires”

Right. Better yet, think eight or nine times. The Internal Revenue Code is enormously complicated. Impulsively enacted changes can cause deleterious unintended consequences. But that doesn’t mean that the U.S. doesn’t need a much more progressive tax structure. A special commission composed of honorable experts should be appointed to study how the Code should be revised and what supporting measures should be enacted to efficiently and fairly raise revenue and reverse the trend toward ever greater income inequality.

There’s not the faintest reason to have the faintest hope that such a thing can happen.

Democrats Should Concentrate on Winning Elections

Democratic senator Joe Manchin is firmly on record that he prefers to be “bipartisan” than oppose Republicans’s efforts to manipulate electoral processes as a means of gaining control of the federal government. In a Washington Post column yesterday, Jennifer Rubin sensibly advises Democrats that it would be both futile and counterproductive to admonish Manchin. Concentrate on winning elections, she says. Win enough of them and you can gain control by a sufficient margin so you’re not dependent on unreliable fellow Democrats. Unfortunately, because of structural reasons, for example Wyoming having the same number of senators as California, which has a vastly greater number of citizens, gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, and other anti-Democratic mechanisms, to win elections in some key states Democrats will have to attract substantially more voters who favor Democratic candidates than Republican candidates.

Is American Democracy on the Way Out?

Robert Reich, who has a long and distinguished record in academia and public service, lays out the dark truth: America is on course to transition from a Constitutional democracy to one-party authoritarian rule. Referring to the Democratic senators who are so intent on exhibiting their “independence” that they are willing, as Lincoln put it, to “meanly lose . . . the last best hope on earth,” Professor Reich wrote yesterday, “Make no mistake: By refusing to end the filibuster, Manchin and Sinema are giving Republicans the green light to cheat their way to victory in 2022, 2024, and every election thereafter.”

Shrinking Lakes

Yesterday I came upon the saddest picture I’ve seen in a long time, an aerial photo of a once large lake in California that looked as if it had about a tenth as much water in it as it should have. It was evidently once a popular lake for houseboats, because dozens of them were clustered into the part of the lake that was still wet. The scene reminded me of one I remember coming upon on an ocean beach –– a tidal pool with dozens of minnows clustered in an ever shrinking volume of water. The article opposite the California lake picture was about how the western United States is in the grip of worsening longterm drought. The article’s text was almost superfluous.

The Future of Covid-19

News Item (from Nature, a leading science magazine): “B.1.617.1 carries a mutation called 484Q, which [compared to B.1.1.7} is more strongly associated with vaccine escape.”

It looks as if U.S. deaths from Covid-19 will top out at a little more than 600,000, but the toll could shoot up to over a million if a variant emerges that is largely impervious to current vaccines. That’s why it’s essential to vaccinate as many people in the world as possible. Reduction of new cases equals reduction in odds of a variant emerging that is capable of “vaccine escape”.

Triumph and Tragedy

This was the title of Winston Churchill’s final volume in his monumental history of World War II. It could also be title of a history of the U.S. 2020 elections. The Democrats succeeded, albeit by the narrowest of margins, in gaining control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, but their victory has been ruthlessly undermined on the federal level by Republican obstructionism and on the state level, where Republicans control key legislatures and governorships, by passage of measures aimed at converting our country’s form of governance from a Constitutional democracy to one-party authoritarian rule.

Republicans could be thwarted, and American democracy sustained for many more years, were it not for Democratic senators Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, who have declared themselves unwilling to vote to abolish or suspend an archaic anti-democratic rule in the U.S. Senate, the filibuster, in order to assert federal authority to protect and preserve the electoral process in federal elections.

Investigation of the January 6th Insurrection

Jennifer Rubin, whom I regard as the most insightful of the Washington Post columnists, has adopted a policy of selectively answering questions submitted by readers. I asked her this one yesterday:

In the wake of Republicans blocking Congressional authorization of a commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection, what steps are being taken by appropriate Congressional committees to conduct their own investigations; to what degree will they be coordinated; will they possibly produce a report embracing their collective findings; to what degree will they be able bring out the key facts that Republicans are trying to keep hidden; and can this be accomplished sufficiently in advance of the 2022 elections?

Losing Democracy to Save the Filibuster

In a Facebook posting this morning, Robert Reich observed: “Future generations won’t understand why we were willing to lose American democracy because a few people wanted to preserve the filibuster.” Madness, perhaps, or malevolence, or some combination of the two? Future generations will theorize endlessly, but they will never understand it: By its nature, it’s incomprehensible.

The Constitution and the Bible

I read that a new edition of the Bible has come out, with the Constitution appended to it, reminding me of the bumper sticker I saw on a pickup truck that said: “I have my Bible, my Constitution, my Bible, and my gun: I am an American.”

A Cosmologist Considers the Mortality of the Universe

Katie Mack, a cosmologist and authority on the end of the universe, begins her brief Ted Talk on that subject by saying, “I love the universe.” I hadn’t heard anyone say that before, but was pleased to hear it. I feel a lot of affection for the universe myself. It belongs to all of us, and all of us belong to it, and it’s impossible to say much about it that isn’t a hopeless understatement. According to the latest scientific findings, the universe is going to die. Ninety percent of the stars that will ever form, have already formed, and every one of them is doomed.The universe will hang on for hundreds of billions of years, but it’s already over the hill. I empathize with Professor Mack’s dismay that this object she loves will die and share her happiness that we have come to know it so well.

Battle of the Titans

In what may be the greatest sporting event of the 21st Century, two of the richest people on the planet, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, are competing with each other for who will be the biggest space travel tycoon. Each wants to establish a base on Mars, the well-known red-tinged planet that is vastly less hospitable to human life than the interior of Antartica. Musk and Bezos are both geniuses, though not in how they spend their money.

Demographic Trends

I read that the rate of world population growth is falling. This is regarded in some quarters as cause for alarm: Suppose population growth levels off, or worse, begins to fall. Economic growth would stagnate. Unemployment would rise, or, on the contrary, not enough goods could be produced. My view is that leveling off of population growth is essential to the long-term survival of our species. It would be best for population to trend down to levels where despoilation of the environment is reversed. Why not free people for better and more creative living and let robots do the work?

Self-Interest and Generosity

I read two articles, each making a persuasive case that the U.S. should mount an effort to vaccinate everyone in the world. Apparently that could be accomplished with 50 billion dollars, diplomacy, determination, arm-twisting, and refusing to be deterred by whining and complaining on the order of “We have enough to do at home without trying to take care of hundreds of other countries” and “This is liberal extreme-left-wing socialism on steroids.” In this case, and in a lot of other cases, by the way, generosity is in our own self-interest. If we don’t come close to stamping out Covid-19 globally, outbreaks will continuously occur. The more cases that occur, the more variants will occur. The more variants that occur, the more likely it is that one or more will be especially lethal, or transmissible, or resistant to vaccines, or a combination thereof, and, given the volume and ubiquity of international air travel, a highly transmissible virus anywhere is a direct threat everywhere. Such an initiative would also help reestablish the U.S. as an enlightened and generous-spirited world leader, all but erasing the image of an incompetent, corrupt, buffoonish, pathetic, failing state mirroring the mental processes of our disgraced former president.

An Inside Report from a Quality Inn

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, tonight after two days of unremarkable driving from St. Louis. Unremarkableness isn’t good from the standpoint of a blog writer, though it’s what most travelers seek. Our motel tonight –– a Quality Inn –– has two framed identical pictures on the wall. Did the Quality Inn company get a huge discount for buying in bulk, precluding having different pictures in the same room? Do all Quality Inns have the same two pictures? I’m curious about it, but not curious enough to investigate.

Tomorrow: back to weightier issues.

Descending through Kansas and Missouri; Checking up on the News.

Kansas is the tilted state. It slopes downward from Colorado to Missouri, losing about 3,000 feet of altitude from its west to its east boundary. The terrain continues to slope west to east through Missouri, though much more gently, until by the time you reach St. Louis, and the Mississippi River, you’re only about 450 feet above sea level, and summer sultriness has set in by late May.

Sara and I are staying here a couple of nights, visiting her relatives. Time to catch up on news. Let’s see — a poll says that 53% of Republicans think Trump is the true president. Another segment of Republicans think Trump isn’t the true president but that the election was stolen from him. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in a Washington Post column this morning, “There is no way to ‘understand’ MAGA voters . . . They are beyond the bounds of rational political debate.”

Sunday in Kansas

Sunday, we spent most of the time driving east on I-70, which seems to go on forever through this impressively wide state. Livening up what otherwise would have been an uninspiring day was the assembling of demonstrators, I guess they would be called, on overpass bridges, people holding American flags and other types of flags, and waving at occupants of approaching cars. The occasion seems to have been the one-year anniversary of the murder of Geoge Floyd by a police officer. Apparently that was a reason to show loyalty to the disgraced former president and support his false claim that the election was stolen from him. Trump and his supporters have been working furiously to supplant constitutional democracy with authoritarian rule. I wonder how many of these flag-waving folks appreciate the irony of affecting patriotism in their support of a movement to overthrow the government of the United States.

Hitting the Road

Saturday, Sara and I started driving from Durango Colorado to Long Island, taking it slow and visiting relatives along the way. Last night we stayed in Limon, which is fifty miles or so east of Denver.

Highlights: the strangely beautiful landscape east of Wolf Creek Pass; the saddening devastation of spruce forests in the vicinity of the pass, the work of pine bark beetles, which thrive as the climate warms; the etherial beauty of black angus cows against bright green grass of meadowlands; leaving the mountains behind and entering the great plains; driving through a windmill farm –– we slow and open windows, hoping to hear the whirring blades; can’t, but they are majestic. I wondered what Don Quixote would have thought of them. The blades don’t sweep close enough to the ground to hack at them with a sword.

The brooding dark clouds. Rain, driving rain; hail, near darkness an hour before sunset. We pull over and wait till it lets up, though we’re only half a mile from La Quinta Inn, where we’re booked for the night. When we got there, a couple of dozen people are hanging out in the lobby, seeking shelter. We are under a tornado warning! All in all, it was a satisfying day.

The Trouble We’re In

In a single sentence in her New York Times column yesterday, Michelle Goldberg explained the principal source of the trouble we’re in: “For four years America was run by a sociopathic con man with a dark magnetism who enveloped a huge part of the country in a dangerous alternative reality.” And, she might have added, continues to perpetuate it.

Tax Policy and the Super Rich

Robert Reich is a master at wielding statistics to prove a point. A familiar refrain of his is that the rich and super rich aren’t taxed enough. I agree with him. The innumerable loopholes and breaks sprinkled throughout the Internal Revenue Code were largely drafted by lawyers and accountants whose clients benefit from them. Reich cites the 25 bathrooms in Jeff Bezos’s D.C. mansion as damning evidence that the super rich aren’t taxed enough. At, I’m guessing, $100,000 average for each luxury bathroom, that adds up to 2.5 million dollars, just for bathrooms in just one of Bezos’s residences.
Professor Riech would have done well to wait for an update on Bezos’s spending: For the price of a new yacht he’s acquiring, he could have bought 5,000 more bathrooms.

Report from the Battlefield of the War on Truth

The House voted to authorize an expert nonpartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and occupation of the Capitol. A large majority of Republicans voted against the measure, and it’s expected that senate Republicans will block it. Republicans don’t want the full truth coming out about the insurrection, because it would expose their cynical and reprehensible support of the insurrectionist in chief. The Washington Post has a slogan: “Democracy dies in darkness.” All but a few Republicans want the lights turned out.

Republicans and America’s Future

A recent poll shows that about two-thirds of Republicans –– a sizable segment of the population –- say that it’s important for Republicans to be loyal to Trump. This is like saying it’s important to be loyal to the devil: Trump favors spreading the Big Lie that the election was stolen from him, instigating an insurrection when the occasion presents itself, pressing for phony audits of election results, spreading false conspiracy theories, and every other means possible in an effort to convert our form of government from a Constitutional democracy to authoritarian one-party rule.

Until recent years, with the exception of a tiny percentage of he population, all Republicans and all Democrats revered our democracy and our form of government. That’s what all the flag-waving and the Fourth of July celebrations are supposed to be about. That’s what, despite all its flaws and acrimony between political parties, made America an exceptional country, a shining beacon of democracy.

Adoption of the authoritarian ethos by one of our two great political parties and a substantial portion of the population, abetted by a substantial portion of the media, is a development that has already caused our country immeasurable damage and may wreck it completely.

The View from Ninety

I can state with authority that writing “The View from Ninety,” posted elsewhere on this website, has improved my psychic state. Others can judge whether it has wider applicability.

American Democracy Incurs a Possibly Mortal Blow

News Item: “A push for sweeping federal election legislation appears to be dying out.” 

Republican-controlled state legislatures are busily passing targeted vote suppression laws and laws that would have the effect of allowing Republican-controlled legislatures to manipulate election results in the fashion that Trump and his enablers tried but failed to achieve in the case of the 2020 elections. Federal voting rights protection legislation is desperately needed to counter these baleful initiatives, but apparently can’t make it through Congress. 

Today, this is just one of dozens of news items, but a few years from now it may look like the punch that knocked American democracy out of the ring.

The Meaning of Liz Cheney

As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted last week, what Liz Cheney, a veteran Republican Congresswoman with as impeccable conservative credentials as anyone in Congress, is saying is that “the vast majority of House Republicans are liars, unfit to serve.” That this is unquestionably true marks a horrifying unprecedented shift in the course of American history. We are so immersed in the flood of events taking place in a seemingly speeded-up passage of time that we’re in danger of becoming numb to the enormity of what has happened. 

Why Write a Daily Blog

The playwright Ionesco said, “I write to find out what I think.” That’s a good reason for keeping a journal or writing a daily blog. Writing helps you consider what’s important and sharpens your thinking. Useful deas may occur to you that wouldn’t otherwise. Some people have many more conversations each day than I have, and in them give their opinions and try to be informative and point out things they think others would be interested in hearing about. Writing a daily blog is one of the ways I make up for my relative isolation. And I hope to influence the thinking of others for the good.  

Senator Joe Manchin 

A congeries of circumstances have thrust Joe Manchin into a position of  extraordinary power. Manchin is considered to be the most conservative Democratic senator. He represents a state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in the 2020 elections. He holds a pivotal position in a senate split 50-50 between those aligned with the Republican leadership and those aligned with the Democratic leadership. It may not be an overstatement to say that Manchin has the power to save American democracy or trash it. 

     Being thrust into a position of great power, like winning a mega million lottery, can affect one’s thinking. It’s an experience that in many instances generates arrogance and ego-driven behavior. It can also invest the lucky winner with a sense of moral responsibility. We’ll learn in the coming months how it affects Joe Manchin.

For Want of a Whim American Democracy May Be Lost

Unless federal legislation is passed to counter voter suppression and election results manipulation laws enacted in states controlled by the Authoritarian Party (still called the Republican Party), the Authoritarian Party will likely gain control of Congress in the 2022 elections.

Unless the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate can be set aside, federal legislation countering voter suppression laws cannot pass.

Without the vote of Democratic senator Joe Manchin, the filibuster rule cannot be set aside.

Since Manchin has declared his opposition to setting the filibuster rule aside, it will take a whim –– a surprising turn in his thinking –– for him to allow the filibuster rule to be set aside.

For want of a whim American democracy may be lost.

The Authoritarian Party and American Democracy

The biggest threat to America isn’t China or Russia; it’s the Republican Party, which has adopted an authoritarian strategy of wanton lying, promoting alternate realities, obstructionism, voter suppression, and election results manipulation. Republicans have cast their most basic civic responsibilities aside and pinned their hopes on achieving authoritarian rule. If they succeed in their ambitions, American democracy will end. If they fail, American democracy will be invigorated. As Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Note: I slightly revised today’s post, and I see that the Word Processing program kept the older version instead of replacing it with this one. I’ve decided to keep both. It’s like underlining a statement for emphasis. 

The Authoritarian Party and American Democracy

The biggest threat to America isn’t China or Russia; it’s the Republican Party, which has adopted an authoritarian strategy of wanton lying, promoting alternate realities, obstructionism, and voter suppression. Republicans have cast aside heir most basic civic responsibilities  and pinned their hopes on achieving authoritarian rule. If they succeed in their ambitions, American democracy will end. If they fail, American democracy will be invigorated. As Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Note from the “You Can Tell the Men from the Boys by the Price of Their Toys” Department

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man ever, has commissioned construction of the world’s most expensive yacht ever. It’s reported cost is $500 million. The upkeep and operating cost will probably be at least $50 million a year. The only thing it lacks is a helicopter pad. That’s not a problem for Mr. Bezos. He has ordered an assistant yacht with a helicopter pad. The assistant yacht will tag along behind the main yacht. The assistant yacht can probably be obtained for under a $100 million and will only cost $10 million a year to maintain.

  The only problem, as I see it, speaking as a former naval person, is that if Mr. Bezos wants to take a helicopter to get somewhere from his yacht, he’ll first have to take a motor boat from it to get to his assistant yacht. How plebeian. 

 I suspect that Mr. Bezos will take a couple of rides on his new yacht, but quickly tire of it and put it on the market. He may have trouble selling it. Ordinary billionaires won’t  be able to afford it.

    

“Horizons” Growth, Population Growth, and A.I. Growth

Headline: “Slowing population growth raises questions about America as a land with unlimited horizons.” 

This suggests that a continuing high rate of growth in population is a good thing. But horizons are not limited by slow population growth. They are limited by how much land there is, how extensive our natural resources are, and how urgent our need is to reduce environmental degradation. More people equals more crowdedness, more greenhouse emissions, and more nature being crowded out. Horizons shrink as the number of people grows. Humanity’s welfare and chances of longterm survival depend in substantial part on the degree we are able to temper population growth. A few months ago, I read that there would be increasingly high unemployment as A.I devices become more and more capable of performing work done by humans. Lately, the main concern seems to be the opposite: that the labor force won’t grow enough to keep pace with goals for ever increasing economic growth. I think the best course is to adopt a low population-growth policy and avoid labor shortages by pursuing an aggressive A.I. development policy.

The View from Ninety

This past year I wrote a book titled The View from Ninety. I set forth in it how I look at life, which it turned out is a lot different than I looked at life when I was twenty, fifty, or even eighty. This winter, after getting the manuscript in pretty smooth shape, I sent it to my literary agent. She wrote back and said just about every nice thing that anyone has ever said about anything other than that she thought someone would want to publish it. 

Rather than self-publish it, I thought, well, during the next two years I can probably make it a better book, and The View from Ninety-Two is a better title anyway. Meanwhile, I’ve distilled the main theme into an essay and posted it elsewhere on this website. 

The Most Dangerous Pathogen

Headline: “Republicans are embracing Trump-enabled conspiracy theories more vigorously than ever.”

It’s as if a pandemic of a virus that infects the brain has swept the land, Republicans are singularly vulnerable to it, nearly all of them have fallen ill with it, there’s no cure for it, nor hope that a vaccine will be developed to prevent it, and even if there were, those vulnerable to it would refuse to be inoculated. The pathogen destroys judgment and any sense of what is right and wrong. Victims become obsessed with bizarre and patently irrational theories and become willing to destroy democracy in order to invest power in hyper ego-centric demagogues. For example, in what, if it were a movie, would be a farce too absurd to be considered for public release, the Arizona Republican-controlled senate recently hired a firm with the name of Cyber Ninjas, owned by an extremist Trump supporter, to conduct a faux audit of the results in the state’s most populous county of last fall’s election. Meanwhile, although Trump is out of office, he is as active as ever as a super-spreader of this ghastly disease.

Climate Policy

I read that China now accounts for 27% of the world’s greenhouse emissions, the U.S. accounts for 11%, India and the E.U., for about 7% each. Climate change can’t be significantly slowed unless emissions are sharply brought down beginning very soon. This can’t happen without a consensus among world leaders that we have to unite to act much more aggressively.  Something more is needed than the “Paris accord” and various countries and mega-corporations setting goals. China’s participation is critical. Biden should initiate discussions with Xi Jinping to discuss the issue. If a common understanding can be reached, it would ease tensions between the two countries in other respects. Probably nothing can be done. But we should try, and not just pretend to try.

What a Way to Wake Up

I wake up and selectively read the news. Today I started off reading about China’s relentless determination to control Taiwan. When the time is right, they’ll take dramatic action to that end, and the U.S. will be powerless to do anything more than get a lot of people killed. Then I read about how Trump’s Big Lie has devoured the GOP. Except for a few brave and honorable souls like Rep. Liz Cheney, a longtime stalwart conservative and pillar of the party who is about to get thrown out of it for telling the truth, Republican leaders and the great majority of their followers have cast their lot with the sociopathic former president, causing me to wonder: If you decide to convert one of America’s two great political parties into an authoritarian force, can’t you find a less repulsive figure to unite behind? I’m sure that, if they could, they would, but I can understand their thinking, “Hey, you take what you can get.” Now on to the next news item.

Lying: It’s the Republican Way

Headline for a Michael Gerson Washington Post column: “Elected Republicans are lying with open eyes. Their excuses are disgraceful.”

  Since they can’t win on issues, they conduct a war of words. Since since they can’t win a war of words with true words, they conduct it with false words, aided by right-wing media masters long accomplished at “lying with open eyes.”

The #1 Tragedy of the Day

Headline: “Rejection of 2020 election results becomes defining GOP loyalty test.” It’s fair to call this the #1 tragedy of the day. Republican leaders and the great majority of those who follow their lead embrace the sociopathic former president’s big lie that the election was stolen. Honorable Republican leaders, like Senator Mitt Romney and Representative Liz Cheney, who refuse to spout malicious falsehoods, are ostracized. Mass depravity has become the defining characteristic of one of America’s two great political parties. It’s an unfathomable, extremely disturbing turn of events.

Billonaires’s Minds

Robert Reich is unexcelled in marshaling statistics to illustrate the extremities of wealth and income inequality and how the tax laws are rigged to favor the rich and especially the super rich and why the U.S. should have a much more progressive tax system. One of Reich’s favorite targets is Jeff Bezos, who is reputed to be the richest man in the world except when Elon Musk is. Last week Reich spread the news that Bezos’s D.C. mansion has 25 bathrooms. That does seem excessive, doesn’t it? Is it not a window into Bezos’s psychic state? The trouble seems to be that most billions are made by people with pathologically acquisitive minds.

The Most Urgent Global Need

India has been overwhelmed by a large upsurge in Covid cases. More contagious and possibly more lethal variants are outstripping vaccination capabilities. Chances of variants arising that are highly contagious and resistant to current vaccines are proportional to numbers of new cases. It’s critical –– for selfish reasons as well as humanitarian ones –– that world-wide vaccine manufacture and distribution be stepped up at an accelerated rate. Intellectual property rights must be subordinated to this most urgent global need.

Putin and Navalny

Vladimir Putin, the malevolent despot who rules Russia, has been trying to kill Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader, in a way that makes it seem like a natural death, or as if someone else did it. This is not as easy as it might seem, because Navalny is courageous, wily, and a model of virtuous behavior. No one knows how the conflict will play out. Putin is a model of depravity. Navalny is a model of how to live and a beacon of hope for the world.

Mortal Threats 

Some weeks ago, I got a communication from the Nuclear Threat Initiative discussing the danger of governments sleepwalking into nuclear war. Yesterday, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman commented on a new book, jointly written by an admiral and an intelligence expert, titled 2034 –- a Novel of the Next World War. The war is with China, and it goes nuclear.

 The scenario is plausible. The pile of dry tinder waiting for a match to be thrown on it is Taiwan, and, in particular, technological capabilities of Taiwanese companies that China covets. Think of trains in the dark heading towards each other on the same track, still some distance away, but the engineers are distracted and under stress. Our leaders need to stay awake and think hard and work hard to avoid mortal threats, of which this is just one.

The Night Sky

The most wonderful sight I’ve ever beheld is one that most human beings who ever lived saw countless times — the unobscured night sky on a clear moonless night undiminished by ambient light from human sources. This is an experience that, because of light pollution from highly populated areas, only a small percentage of people living today have had.  Some places, far from urban centers, can rightly be classified as “dark sky locations,” but yesterday I read that there may no longer be any place on Earth where the night sky is not affected by light reflected from satellites and space junk orbiting Earth.

      The upside of this is that one of these satellites is the Hubble Space Telescope, which has provided us with thousands of stunning images that most people who ever lived have never seen and few imagined could exist.  

Getting History Straight

Headline: “Biden declares that the 1915 mass massacre of Armenians was a ‘genocide’, breaking with tradition amid tense relations with Turkey.” Because it would offend the rulers of Turkey, this has been a subject that American presidents have been reluctant to discuss, even though the facts have not been in doubt.

No government should be complicit in covering up monstrous acts. True painful facts should be exposed to the light of day. It might be a good idea for the U.S. to commission a panel of respected historians to document all the instances in which our country had transgressed human rights. Let’s put on record our own ignominious failings. We’ll be more likely to avoid repeating them, and we’ll have moral standing to condemn those of other nations. 

The Tragedy of the Moral Descent of the Republican Party

Sometimes things are so weird that they are hard to believe even when we know they’re true. That’s what caused Chicago Daily News reporter Charley Owens to say, after hearing that the much admired baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson admitted that he had cheated in the 1919 World Series, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

     Shoeless Joe had more integrity than the close to 50 U.S. Republican senators and 212 Republican House members who aren’t admitting that they have betrayed our country by mouthing Russian propaganda about the election; being dismissive of the January 6th insurrection; trying to disenfranchise voters, particularly in areas with large Black populations; abetting “replacement theory” and white nationalism; keeping alive the big lies that the 2016 presidential election was stolen from Trump and that voter fraud is a serious problem; and . . . the list goes on –– Jennifer Rubin laid it out in her Washington Post column yesterday. It’s sickening that the vast majority of Republican politicians have chosen to descend to the moral plane of the disgraced former president, and that they will never say it’s so.  

The State of the Supreme Court

It has come to pass that the Supreme Court of the United States is controlled by six people who are usually referred to as conservatives, though the defining feature of their characters is not “conservativism,” it’s a religiously-justified ideological rigidity hostile to enlightened, liberal, compassionate ideals and attitudes. That this is the case was conclusively revealed this past week in the Court’s 6-3 upholding of the sentencing of a 31-year-old man to life in prison without even the possibility of parole for killing his grandfather when he was barely 15 years-old.

   This ruling will do nothing to deter juveniles from committing violent crimes. It denies the possibility of redemption. It denies the possibility that someone’s psychic state might change over the course of his life from what it was when he was an abused child. It denies non-controversial findings of neuroscientists that the frontal cerebral cortex of human brains –– the faculty responsible for exercising judgment –– is slow to develop and far from fully formed in brains of adolescents. 

    In rendering their decision, these six justices revealed their corrupted vision of human life, their mean-spiritedness, and their ignorance of science. That they control the Court is one of the tragedies of our times.

Climate Change and Human Destiny

Noam Chomsky: “If we don’t take control of environmental destruction in the next decade or two, we’re finished. It’s that simple.”

Climate Change Initiatives and Destiny

 

It’s heartening and commendable that president Biden has pledged to reduce U.S. carbon emission 50% by 2030. If every country could do that, humanity might have a chance of saving itself from self-extinction. But in our fractured polity how can the Biden Administration get the measures enacted to pursue that goal? 

Meanwhile, China says it will achieve net zero emissions by 2060, but that its emissions will keep rising until 2030. Is there any reason to have confidence in what the present ruler of China says will be achieved 39 years from now? Then there’s India, soon to be the world’s most populous country, whose Covid situation, among other problems, is out of control. And Russia, run by an old-fashioned ruthless tyrant, whose main revenue comes from fossil fuels. And Africa, whose energy needs are likely to grow exponentially in the coming years. I wonder whether at some point, perhaps fairly soon, world leaders and experts will acknowledge that human destiny is to destroy itself. I’m just wondering, not predicting.

The Authoritarian Party 

The Political Party that is known as the Republican Party has embraced the mindset of the sociopathic former president, thereby disassociating itself from the “Grand Old Party,” the Republican Party of former times. 

In almost every state, Republicans have passed or are attempting to pass legislation targeted to reduce voter turnout among citizens likely to vote for Democrats. Recently, as Robert Reich reports, “State Republicans in 34 states have introduced 81anti-protest bills in 2021 so far,” including laws passed in Florida, Oklahoma, and Iowa granting immunity to drivers who drive through and injure crowds of protesters!

It’s evident that if a Putin-like aspiring despot took over leadership of the Republican Party, the great majority of Republican politicians would follow him. They would follow the sociopathic former president if he runs again. Simply put, most Republican politicians are authoritarian-minded, and there are a lot of them, and collectively they have a lot of power and pose a grave threat American democracy. 

The Power of Bystanders

It’s been widely noted that the murderer of George Floyd would not have been prosecuted, if it had not been for bystanders who videoed the crime and came forth to testify about it. Crime would be reduced and the administration of justice improved if everyone capable of doing so carried a phone capable of making video recordings and resolved to bring serious crimes they witnessed to public awareness. 

Why the IRS is Deprived of Adequate Staff and Resources

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne recently noted that the IRS commissioner reported that as much as a trillion dollars a year is not collected because of errors and fraud, and because the IRS lacks the staff to go after the money. I also read that every dollar of extra funding for the IRS would yield six dollars in added dollars collected. This situation is self-worsening: The more people hear about how many people are getting away with cheating on their taxes, the more people say, “Why am I such a chump as to be paying the full amount?” 

Why doesn’t Congress act with alacrity to provide the IRS with adequate resources? Could it be that a lot of rich donors to political campaigns prefer to keep the IRA underfunded. What other reason could there be?

Infrastructure Legislation, Greed, and Power

The United States faces multiple very serious challenges. Democrats have put forward multiple legislative proposals to to meet them. In 2017, Republicans rammed through legislation providing for enormous tax reductions for corporations, the rich, and especially the super rich, despite any economic need for them and despite the appalling rise in income and wealth inequality that had been in progress. Now, in 2021, Republican politicians balk at the idea that some of these breaks should be reversed to finance needed initiatives. Their superrich donors wouldn’t look like it. Power-fueled greed may cripple our country’s future.

Restructuring the Supreme Court

“Packing” the Supreme Court (increasing the number of justices on the Court) sounds like a bad idea. Even Justice Breyer, a liberal, thinks it would erode public confidence in the Court. On the other hand, Republicans have been packing the court for some time, and not with standard mainstream Republicans, but with ideologues. Most notoriously, in 2016, Mitch McConnell, abetted by the Republican-controlled senate, refused to allow a hearing for President Obama’s superbly qualified nominee, Merrick Garland, enabling Trump to install a temperamentally unfit right-wing judge after he took office. And in October 2020, Republicans rammed through confirmation of a right-wing ideologue on the eve of the presidential election.

Robert Reich, master of salient facts, has noted that “since 1969, Democratic presidents have appointed 4 Supreme Court justices, while Republicans have appointed 16 (5 of them by presidents who lost the popular vote).” Arguably, to achieve public confidence in the Court, the balance should be restored.

Biden Blunder

Biden appears to have made a serious blunder in saying that the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in the coming year would be no higher than the number Trump had set. The White House said that a final decision would be made by May 15. Feeling pressure from all directions on all fronts, Biden seems to have gotten his Irish up (let his irritation get the best of him) and thought, “I’ve got to be tough.” He failed to consider the powerful adverse psychological effect this announcement would have. He has generally been performing well, but the challenges he faces and the demands on him are enormous. America can’t afford having him stumble. 

Notes from the Misinformation Age

News Item: “A recent poll shows that 43 percent of Republicans are determined not to get a shot.” It’s a good bet that these are roughly the same people who believe Trump’s big lie that the election was stolen from him. There’s something about them that renders them vulnerable to nihilistic propaganda.  The more people who get Covid, the more likely it is that a variant will emerge that’s resistant to current vaccines. Alternative facts cost lives.

Pulling Out of Afghanistan

I don’t know enough to form an opinion rather than guess, but my guess is that Biden was right to announce a firm pullout date. It’s not a war we can win. Our armed forces are spread too thin as it is. Eighty thousand Russian troops are massed on the Ukrainian border. China is converting the South China Sea into a Chinese pond. Our problems are manifold, Congress is divided, Our society is in disarray.  

   We have clear duties remaining with respect to Afghanistan. We must allow the Afghanis who helped American operations and seek refuge in the U.S. to be swiftly admitted and given a path to citizenship. We must monitor the situation in that beleaguered country indefinitely. We must help its people any way we reasonably can.

The Media and Abnormal Politicians

Journalists are trained to search for the truth, and in this process air opposing views, suppress any biases they may have, and deliver the news in such a way that viewers and readers can form their own opinion as to the truth of whatever is at issue. Despite the mass descent of Republican politicians to the base moral plane of the disgraced former president –– for example in (i) blocking his conviction after he was impeached for inciting the seditious January 6th mob invasion of the capitol that caused multiple deaths and injuries, and (ii) refusing to denounce his Big Lie that the election was stolen from him –– as Jennifer Rubin noted in a Washington Post column yesterday, “the media . . .  continues to treat Republicans as normal politicians. . .” They are something else. Media, wake up!

    

Deals with the Devil

During the 2016 primaries, Republican politicians watched with dismay, trending toward wonder, as Trump attracted increasing numbers of Republican voters. Abetted by propagandistic right-wing media, he appealed to their worst instincts, which turned out to be abundant, and he won the nomination.

Republican politicians who had held him in contempt followed him like sheep, most of them, I suspect, thinking of themselves not as sheep, but as foxes using this repellent character as a tool for solidifying political power. They forgot that deals with the devil don’t work well. Trump is a human-shaped substance made of glue. Republican politicians got stuck to him. It would take the right stuff (decent moral character) to pull free from him, and they don’t have it.

News Note on the Disgraced Former President

If you read the account of the disgraced former president’s speech to a Republican National Committee gathering at his Mar-a-Lago Club, you can marvel that such a crude, mendacious, and thoroughly despicable man became president of the United States, then marvel again that most Republican politicians venerate or affect to venerate him because they think doing so works to their political advantage. Trumpism will endure for as long as America does as one of the most shameful episodes in our nation’s history.

Climate Change and Human Destiny

Colorado Headline: “Water supply, wildfire concerns loom over spring, summer.”

 There used to be just a ski season and a (summer) tourist season, and occasionally there were wildfires. Now there’s a wildfire season, one that seems to last longer each year. Along with happy anticipation, one feels the beginnings of dread at the approach of summer. The graph showing the number of parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is dismaying. Glaciers are sliding over one another at a glacial pace that has speeded up. President Biden has a plan to combat climate change. There’s the Paris accord. Steps are being taken. Exxon is going to spend almost a billion dollars a year on “carbon capture.” Uh huh.

 I keep thinking of how Easter Island was once forested and people that lived there kept chopping down trees until they were gone. 

Time to Stop Putting Up with Putin

The agents of the Russian despotic dictator, Vladimir Putin, botched an attempt to assassinate Alexei Navalny, Russia’s principle opposition leader, by poisoning him. When Navalny courageously returned to Russia after recuperating in a German hospital, Putin had him arrested and incarcerated. Navalny has initiated a hunger strike after being denied medical care, which he apparently needs because of the sadistic treatment inflicted on him.

Executing Navalny might cause unpleasant blowback. Putin thinks it would be more politic for Navalny to die slowly from “unfortunate” medical conditions. An editorial last night in the online Washington Post urges that stronger sanctions be imposed to demonstrate to the chief monster in the Kremlin that the U.S. won’t ignore such behavior. The Post argues that an appropriate step would be to freeze the assets and apply visa bans of 35 oligarchs and their families in the Putin entourage. This sounds right to me.

The MaGa Crowd

The MaGa crowd, Trump cultists –– what Jennifer Rubin calls  a “permanently alienated, furious and irrational segment of Americans” –– comprises a large enough chunk of the American electorate so that Republicans can’t win Party primaries and can’t win general elections without their support. Instead of repudiating such types and honorably facing the world without their support, the rest of the Republican Party panders to them, lowering themselves to their level. 

Manchin Bashes a Hole below the Waterline in the Ship of State

In an Op-ed in last night’s online Washington Post, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he will not vote to circumvent the filibuster. Because of the 50-50 split in the senate, and united Republican opposition to all of Biden’s legislative initiatives, this looks likely to doom the rest of Biden’s progressive agenda. Manchin justified his position by claiming to be a champion of bipartisanship. But since the Republicans have rejected bipartisanship, and preserving the filibuster will only bring forth from them self-satisfied snickers, Manchin’s position makes no sense. Manchin has bashed a hole below the waterline in the ship of state, and it doesn’t look as if it can be plugged.

Voting Rights and the Filibuster

Because all Republican senators will vote against it, there’s no way Congress can pass desperately needed voting rights protection legislation without elimination or targeted reform of the filibuster. Two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, though presumably they would vote to pass voting rights bills, appear to be intransigent about preserving the filibuster. They evidently feel that if they don’t vote to preserve the filibuster, they will lose the votes of centrists and independents they need to hang on to if they are to keep their seats in the senate. Passage of voting rights protection is critically important. Neither of these senators appears to have the courage or conviction to do the right thing.

The Spookiest Thing

I don’t know if it’s the most dangerous threat to our country and our civilization, but it’s clearly the spookiest thing affecting us –-something I could never have imagined would happen –– that, despite the overwhelming evidence of its falsity, 60% of Republicans believe Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him and believe a lot of other malicious nonsense as well. As Robert Reich noted in a Facebook posting yesterday, “Fueled by the right-wing media ecosystem, a huge portion of the electorate now lives in a parallel reality where facts and truth don’t exist.” What measure of havoc this phenomenon will inflict on our country is impossible to predict. It doesn’t bode well.

 

How Republicans Can Sleep at Night

Republican members of Congress, possibly without exception, are adhering to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s policy, which is to block every significant legislative initiative advanced by Democrats regardless of whether or not it’s in our country’s interest to do so. Their aim is to keep the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress from accomplishing anything during this term of Congress, thereby positioning Republicans to urge the electorate to restore them to power, so that they can institute constructive policies and lead the country to greatness. 

How can Republicans sleep at night by pursuing such a policy? They can sleep at night because their brains are constituted in such a way that they are unaffected by matters of conscience. 

The Border

You can see the Mexican border problem in a different perspective if you read Jorge Ramos’s op-ed  in the online New York Times. He tells of how when he was in elementary school in Mexico City he learned that in 1848, with the end of the Mexican-American war, Mexico was forced to cede 55 percent of its territory to the U.S. for 15 million dollars. Thereupon, Ramos notes, a lot of Mexicans didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them.

America desperately needs an enlightened immigration policy. Despite President Biden’s good intentions, it seems unlikely that one will materialize. Ramos commented that in 1997 the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes described the U.S. – Mexico border as a “bleeding scar.” It’s hard to see how it can be healed until the U.S. heals itself. 

Baseball and Democracy

This past week, the organization that runs major league baseball moved the All Star Game from Georgia in a stunning rebuke of the GOP-controlled government of that state for enacting election laws designed to make it harder for people likely to vote Democratic to cast their ballots, and, worse than that, to permit GOP officials to overturn local election results not to their liking, a brazen attempt to convert democracy into one-party authoritarian rule. Georgia-based Delta Airlines and Coca Cola also, though belatedly, criticized the new laws. 

That large conservative-minded organizations find voter repression laws on this scale sufficiently repellant to speak out about them should be instructive to Democratic senators who have been reluctant to reform the senate filibuster rule that threatens to prevent Congress from nullifying such grossly anti-democratic legislation.

With regard to the issue of voting rights protection, the contest between Democrats and Republicans is not the classic one between differing shades of political philosophies, it’s one between the good guys and the bad guys. 

Republican Party Policy

Republicans have so far introduced 361 voter suppression bills in the legislatures 47 states. That’s their main business these days, along with trying to block every significant legislative proposal introduced by Democrats in Congress. 

Republicans have no responsible agenda of their own. Their aim is to Block Biden Better. If they can sufficiently reduce Democratic turnout and cause Biden to fail, they can gain control of both the House and the Senate in 2022. 

The Big Infrastructure Program and Tax Policy

Republicans senators and members of Congress will probably vote unanimously against the 2.3 trillion dollar infrastructure and remedial spending legislative package advanced by Democrats. They will say it’s too expensive. They didn’t say the 1.9 trillion dollar tax cuts primarily for the rich and especially for the super rich they rammed through in 2017 after Trump took office was too expensive.

The proposed infrastructure expenditures this year are for much needed investment in our country that will yield a high rate of return and will benefit everyone. A good way to finance it would be to reverse the tax cuts primarily for the rich and especially for the super rich of 2017. And this should be just the beginning of instituting a more progressive tax policy if we are to strengthen our country and reverse the longterm trend toward ever greater income inequality.

The Filibuster

In his book Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy, Adam Jentleson exposes the filibuster’s true nature as an anti-democratic mechanism with dark roots in efforts to establish white supremacy and suppress civil rights. Politicians defending it claim that it protects the public from the tyranny of the majority. In fact, it serves to inflict upon the public the tyranny of the minority. That will be its effect writ large if it stands in the way of voting rights protection bills passed by the House and awaiting consideration by the Senate. As of this moment, it appears likely that if the filibuster survives, American democracy won’t.

My Favorite Person of the Week

Born in Japan, Mazie Hirono, a Democratic senator from Hawaii, is a great American. In a recent interview she aptly describes the status of most Republican politicians: “When you enter the moral dead zone that is the Trump ambit, you’ve lost your soul.” What is Hirono’s attitude toward Republicans who have lost their soul? She says, “When they vote en masse to screw people over, it’s hard to be all warm and fuzzy.”

Sociopaths and Georgia Republican Politicians

As the Harvard psychologist Martha Stout pointed out in her book The Sociopath Next Door, a defining characteristic of sociopaths is that they lack a conscience. They can only think of their own interests. They aren’t capable of empathy.Many sociopaths rise to positions of power. It’s convenient not to be slowed in carrying out your ambitions by thinking about how your actions might hurt others.                                                                                                                                       

A trouble for sociopaths, however, is that this cognitive abnormality sometimes prevents them from seeing how thoughtless their behavior would appear to others. A recent instance of this was senator Ted Cruz’s escape to Cancun with his family when most of his constituents in Texas were freezing and without power and water after an unusually severe winter storm. Last week, the sociopaths who control the Georgia Republican Party passed an assortment of targeted voter suppression laws, one of which made it a crime to give someone who has been waiting in line to vote for hours (another effect of voter suppression) a bottle of water regardless of how thirsty they might be. Were they not sociopaths, they would have foreseen that by inserting such a provision in the law, they would reveal themselves to be bizarrely antisocial in pursuit of their ambitions.

The Authoritarian Party

Republican-controlled state legislatures are engaged in passing targeted voting suppression laws. The new repertoire of laws in Georgia includes one that goes beyond that: It would enable Republican election officials to overturn election results they don’t like. Sounds unconstitutional, doesn’t it. But would the right-wing justices who control the Supreme Court so rule in a case brought before it?  The Republican Party, which has become the Authoritarian Party, is united in its strategy of voter suppression. That’s the Authoritarian Party way. Congressional legislation is essential to protect voting rights and the integrity of the electoral process.

The Issue That Is Key to All Issues

In a recent Facebook post, Robert Reich said, “{Democrats} have a tiny window of opportunity to abolish the filibuster and raise the minimum wage, protect voting rights, provide universal health care, save the climate, raise taxes on the rich, and get big money out of politics.” 

Of these, protecting voting rights is the key to keeping the window open longer. Protecting voting rights requires forbidding the filibuster to block voting rights legislation. If all 50 Democratic senators can agree to that, American democracy will likely be saved. If not, it will likely be lost.

Brain Virus?

Headline: “49% of Republican men say they won’t get vaccinated.” Is there some sort of virus that gets in these people’s brains that causes them to form convictions contrary to elementary general knowledge and against their own self-interest? You can bet most of them would tell you the election was stolen from Trump. I suspect that they seize upon and adhere to such myths as a way of propping themselves up, carving out a world of alternative facts in which they are special; they are in the right. Self-satisfaction in their contrariness sustains them. 

Can Democrats Pass Voting Rights Legislation?

Senator Amy Klobuchar explained why she and other Democrats say they are confident that they can get voting rights protection legislation passed despite unanimous Republican intransigence and lack of enough votes of senate Democrats to break the filibuster, which would permit the relevant bills to pass by a simple majority. Klobuchar explained that Democrats can bring the voting rights bills to the floor of the senate for full debate. Republican senators, who uniformly oppose voting rights protection, will argue against them. Since all such arguments are absurd on their face, the Republicans’s true motive –– establishment of white supremacist anti-democratic one party rule –– will be glaringly exposed to public view. Some Republicans will thereupon give way and vote for passage of the bills; or Democrats opposed to reforming the filibuster will gain enough political cover to dare to reverse their opposition to filibuster reform, enabling voting rights bills to pass by a simple majority. 

It’s a pretty picture, and it’s essential that it happens, but it still looks like long shot to me.

The District of Columbia Should Be Made a State

The District of Columbia, which has a larger population than Wyoming and Vermont, should be made a state. Robert Reich said it well: “46% of D.C. is black, and D.C. has no senators; 1% of Wyoming is black and Wyoming has 2 senators. Opposing D.C. Statehood is racist. Period.” Republicans haven’t advanced a single argument that isn’t silly on its face against making D.C. a state. Democrats like Joe Manchin who try to appear centrist and moderate by siding with Republicans on key issues like D.C. statehood and protecting voting rights place our democracy in great peril. 

Republican Strategy

In one of her Washington Post columns yesterday, Jennifer Rubin reiterated the doleful fact that because Republicans can no longer gain of retain power by “pandering to their White base,” they’ve adapted a strategy of disenfranchising people of color through targeted voter suppression laws and tactics. Their goal, as Rubin says, is “to permanently enshrine white supremacy and thereby unravel our democracy.” 

The Workings of Plutocracy

Everyone concerned with widening federal deficits and the scale of expenditures required to meet the nation’s needs should be aware that, from the standpoint of ordinary taxpayers, trillions of dollars go down the drain every year because of our inadequately progressive tax structure, enormous tax benefits and loopholes for rich people and corporations, and lack of mechanisms to ensure adequate collection of taxes by the Internal Revenue Service. 

All these deficiencies could be remedied, but rich people and rich corporations resist them and fund politicians who are willing to accommodate their donors. For every AOC and Elizabeth Warren in Congress there are a dozen Kevin McCarthys and Mitch McConnells. 

A Perilous Situation

Headline: No end in sight’: Inside the Biden administration’s failure to contain the border surge”

The cornerstone of Trump’s immigration policy was cruelty: Rip children away from their parents and lose track of where you send them. That will show those people not to try to enter our country. Biden rightly ended Trump’s despicable policy, but he failed to anticipate that the impetus to enter the United States would increase sharply once Trump was gone. 

Countering mass border crossings without being cruel requires a massive effort on the part of the United States. Biden’s failure to anticipate a crisis and prepare for it was a major failure on his part. It’s not clear that the crisis can be ended during the present term of Congress. Republicans see this a golden political opportunity to divert the public’s attention from their contemptible behavior in undermining our democracy and supporting and protecting the sociopath in the the White House for four years. 

The Power of Statistical Comparisons

Ari Berman, sometime MSNBC talk show maven, has become a rival to Robert Reich in adeptness at juxtaposing disparate statistics to dramatic effect. The latest: “38,000 gun deaths a year in the U.S.? Who needs gun control? Two cases of voter fraud in 2020; let’s pass 253 new voter suppression laws.”  

May Justice Prevail

Headline: Trump’s onslaught of legal problems: Investigations in multiple states and dozens of lawsuits.

May justice and fairness prevail, and Trump’s sustained effort to be above the law have dramatically adverse consequences for him in courts of law.

Slipping Away

 

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.

 For want of a horse, the battle was lost.

 For want of a battle the war was lost.

 –– all for the want of a nail.

 

So goes a rhyme that’s been lodged in my head for a long time.

 

     For  want of senator, filibuster reform will be lost. 

     For want of filibuster reform, a Federal voting rights act will be lost.

     For want of a Federal voting rights rights act, American democracy will be lost. 

     For want of American democracy, America will be lost.

–– all for the want of a senator.

The senator in question, Joe Manchin (D.) of West Virginia, isn’t lost yet; but he appears to be slipping away.

More About Good Book

I finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, Karla and the Sun, and want to say something about it without spoiling anyone’s experience of reading it with fresh eyes. Since readers learn on the first page or so that the book is narrated by an AF, an “artificial friend,” a character who is essentially a robot, or an android, or something in between, endowed with artificial intelligence at a level not yet attained in our society, but that’s almost certainly coming, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that much.

Nor do I think it’s a spoiler to say that by deftly creating such a character in a work of fiction, the author has conducted a valuable thought experiment. How might such a character be programed? What rules should be followed in designing the complex of algorithms that will govern her behavior? In what circumstances might the AF’s behavior deviate from the realm of what the designers thought possible? At what point do observed emotions in such a creature become real rather than simulated? At what point do ethical obligations toward such a creature arise? And will we ever be able to tell? 

The Overriding Issue

Can Congress pass effective voting protection legislation? It must in order to prevent massive disenfranchisement by Republican-controlled state legislatures that are busily enacting laws aimed at making it harder for people likely to vote for Democrats to vote. Congress can’t achieve this unless all Democratic senators agree to do away with, or at least modify, the filibuster rule. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, appearing on the Rachel Maddow show, has been saying  repeatedly, with regard to this and other matters, “Failure is not an option.” That’s a nice, if overused, phrase. The trouble is that failure is an option, and avoiding it is not within Mr. Schumer’s control. 

I assume that, behind the scenes, talks are taking place. It’s critical that they succeed in getting all Democratic senators on board. Protection of voting rights is the overriding issue during the rest of this Congress’s term. 

A Good Book

Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, Karla and the Sun, which I’m sixty percent through, is the most engaging novel I’ve read in a long time. It’s been heavily reviewed, but I’m not going to read any reviews until I’ve finished it, and I recommend you avoid them too, and I’m not going to say anything about here, except that reading it at bedtime may not be a good idea. It left such an imprint on my mind last evening, like the imprint of a bright light that lingers after you’ve closed your eyes, that it took me two hours to go to sleep and is still there this morning.

Time Out for Trivia

A friend of mine who is tech expert once commented that “Computers sometimes seem to have a mind of their own.” Or programs. Or collections of algorithms, for sure. That’s why my last two entries on this blog are in reverse order and share the same date. What caused the program to “go rogue”?  In this case it was that I tried to change the heading on the previous day’s blog. Sorry, program, it won’t happen again, probably.

Why is there such a gap between this blog and the last one?  Dunno. Maybe the sun will come out tomorrow.

 

 

 

A Senate Rule that Reveals the Plutocratic Character of Our Democracy

Professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, whom I follow on Facebook, is a master of comparative data. In a posting yesterday, he asked why 60 votes in the senate is necessary to raise the minimum wage for ordinary people, but it only takes 51 votes to pass a 1.9 trillion dollar tax cut for corporations and the super-rich. That’s the kind of remark that sends Republican state legislators scurrying to introduce bills designed to make it more difficult for ordinary people to vote. 

Ways of Referring to Trump

Robert Reich, whom I wrote about yesterday, has always thought it’s inappropriately respectful to call Trump “President Trump” or “Mr. Trump.” Among the hundreds of Professor Reich’s Facebook postings I’ve read over the past five years; he never once referred to the former TV reality star other than as “Trump.” I read the transcript of an interview with Spike Lee a couple of days ago, from which I learned that Mr. Lee thinks that calling Trump “Trump” is inappropriately respectful and makes it a practice to never refer to him other than as “Agent Orange.” Jennifer Rubin, who in my opinion is the most astute of the Washington Post op-ed columnists, also thinks calling Trump “Trump” is inappropriately respectful. She prefers to refer to him as “the disgraced former president.” That’s more elevated verbiage, certainly, but I think “Agent Orange” is preferable because it more perfectly captures the essence of the man.

A Senate Rule that Reveals the Plutocratic Character of Our Democracy

Professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, whom I follow on Facebook, is a master of comparative data. In a posting yesterday, he asked why 60 votes in the senate is necessary to raise the minimum wage for ordinary people, but it only takes 51 votes to pass a 1.9 trillion dollar tax cut for corporations and the super-rich. That’s the kind of remark that sends Republican state legislators scurrying to introduce bills designed to make it more difficult for ordinary people to vote. 

Voting Rights Protection and the Filibuster

Voter suppression legislation is presently the main business of Republican-controlled state legislatures. Stacey Abrams, who is the leading authority on voter suppression and how to counter it, appeared on the Rachel Maddow show last evening. She made clear that it’s critically important for Congress to pass voting rights protection laws. The House has already done so, but their bills can’t pass in the senate without first doing away with the “filibuster,” the requirement that passing legislation of this sort requires sixty votes in the senate rather than a simple majority. Tantalizingly, it takes only a majority vote to do away with the filibuster.

This is a great test of Biden and Congressional Democratic leaders. Can they convince two Democratic senators who have been reluctant to support doing away with the filibuster to reverse or sufficiently modify their positions so voting rights protection legislation can become law? Can they be made to understand that the fate of American democracy may depend upon it?

Guaranteed Minimum Income?

There should be a guaranteed minimum income, indexed for inflation, sent monthly to everyone who is eligible, enough to cover minimum basic needs, so no one is usually penniless. You’d have to be below the poverty level to qualify. Let’s say -– I’m just guessing –- 50 million people living in America would qualify. Let’s say the minimum guarantee is $12,000 a year ($1,000 / month). If you’re making $8,000, you only get $4,000. The cost of this program might average $10,000 per recipient per year –– $500 billion per year. 

The above figures may be way off. You’d need to have the Congressional Budget Office analyze it all and plug in the right numbers; then all you’d need is an enlightened Congress to implement it. Because the recipients are, by hypothesis, living hand to mouth –– spending every nickel they get ––  virtually all this money is pumped back into the economy directly and indirectly, increasing tax revenues by many tens of billions, maybe hundreds of billions, of dollars (the multiplier effect). The balance can readily be supplied by having a more progressive tax system. (The present one was designed to please plutocrats).

It will be argued in opposition to such a program that it will cause a lot of people to sit on the couch and not look for jobs. Let them sit on a couch. If they are so dull and unambitious, they’re not going to contribute anything to the economy anyway. But this is a baseless worry. The vast majority of eligible  people would find it unbearably boring to sit on a couch. They will want to get a job in which they can lift themselves up to a level where they have some disposable income. They’ll be more likely to find that kind of job –– one in which they can contribute to the economy and begin to feel good about life –– if they’re not stressed out from wondering where their next meal is coming from.

How Light May Be Thrown on an Interesting Proposition

It looks quite likely that Trump will be indicted on several counts in Georgia as a result of his efforts to browbeat local officials into fabricating false election results in that state. It’s hard to see how a jury would convict him, because any Georgia jury is likely to contain at least one or two members of the Trump cult who would vote to acquit him regardless of how heavily the evidence weighs against him. Such a prosecution would be salutary nevertheless, casting light on the proposition that no one is above the law.

The Biggest Challenge –– Voting Rights Reform

Republicans control key state legislatures, but they can’t win control of Congress and the White House without pervasive gerrymandering and voter suppression laws targeted at likely Democratic voters. The right-wing dominated Supreme Court can almost certainly be counted on to be supportive of them in their efforts. Congress, which Democrats control by the slimmest of margins, could pass voting rights legislation that would thwart the Republican anti-democratic agenda, but only by eliminating the mechanism called the filibuster, which requires a 60-40 vote in the senate for voting rights reform to pass. Eliminating the filibuster would require only a majority vote, and Democrats could accomplish that if two Democratic senators, who have opposed eliminating the filibuster, can be persuaded that the fate of American democracy may turn on whether voting rights reform can pass and that this term of Congress may be the last one in which that will be possible.

Trump as a Prop for Advertising

Headline: “Trump sends cease-and-desist letter to GOP organizations to stop fundraising off his name.”

Apparently a major concern for Trump is that some money raised might be used to support Republicans who voted to impeach him. I hope Democrat organizations can still conduct “fundraising off his name,” as in, for example, “The Republican Party has become little more than a Trump cult.” 

Policies and Communication

The majority of working-class white people voted for Republican candidates in last fall’s election, even though policies of Democrats work to the advantage of this constituency far better than those of Republicans, which are largely tailored to appeal to the rich donor class. One trouble is that so much of working-class people’s intake of “news” comes from right-wing propagandistic sources such as Fox News and talk radio. Democrats have been losing the competition to get their message across. During the years of the great depression, FDR showed how to do it. Biden lacks FDR’s gifts as a communicator. It’s hard to see how this destructive imbalance can be reversed.

The Sad Truth about Republicans

Republicans in Congress have no significant policy proposals. Their entire strategy is to take advantage of every method available to them to obstruct and troll to keep the Biden Administration and Democratic-controlled Congress from accomplishing anything. Their idea is that if the Democrats can’t accomplish anything, they are less likely to be re-elected. 

Meanwhile, Republicans who control key state legislatures are relentlessly gerrymandering Congressional districts in order to increase the proportion of Republicans in Congress, regardless of popular will, and have introduced more than 200 bills crafted to suppress voter turnout of people likely to vote for Democratic candidates.

It didn’t used to be the case, but it is now: Republicans are willing to scrap American democracy in order to gain and retain power.

The Dr.  Seuss books Controversy

The Dr. Seuss estate discontinued publication and distribution of six  Dr. Seuss books because they contained racist images or themes. This event provided right-wing propagandists a pretext for trumpeting their favorite diversionary battle cries: Cancel culture! Censorship! Freedom destroyers. 

How about the freedom of authors and their representatives to cease publication and distribution of their books for whatever reason they like? There are still lots of Dr. Seuss books available to delight young readers and pre-readers. I haven’t seen the ones said to be racist, but I can understand that it’s not good to subject either white or black pre-schoolers to books that give the impression that blacks are inferior. In a recent column, the African American New York Times columnist Charles Blow recounted the effect such books had on him as a child.

Just as there is a Holocaust Museum, maybe there should be a White Supremacist Museum, where books like these would be exhibited. The historical record should be preserved and be accessible to the general public, but little kids shouldn’t be subjected to racist picture books, any more than grownups should be subjected to the sight of statues in public venues of racist politicians and generals who were bent on perpetuating slavery.

Time for a Wealth Tax

Elizabeth Warren, appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show, again urged passage of a wealth tax. It’s astonishing to consider how little the super rich would be disadvantaged by giving up two percent of their wealth in excess of a fifty million dollars,  and three percent of their wealth in excess of a billion dollars, and what good could be accomplished by redirecting the amounts raised to where it’s desperately needed.

Republicans and centrist Democrats wrongly consider Elizabeth Warren to hold an extreme view. What’s extreme is the gap of wealth and income inequality in this country and the way it’s taken for granted.

The Threat

How it happened is a long story. That it happened is not in doubt. The Republican Party has become the Trump Party, which, as Robert Reich accurately states, is a “dangerous, deluded, authoritarian, and potentially violent faction that has no responsible role in a democracy.” 

Because of the filibuster, which two Democratic senators are reluctant to oppose, legislation protecting voting rights from assault by Republican-controlled state legislatures is blocked. If the Trump Party gains control of either the Senate or the House in next year’s elections, all progressive initiatives will be blocked. If the Trump Party gains the presidency in 2024, democracy itself will be blocked.

               

Weekend Headlines:

“With new mass detentions, every prominent Hong Kong activist is either in jail or exile.”

“The Republican Party is no longer committed to democracy.” 

“Myanmar security forces open fire on protesters, killing at least 18, according to U.N.”

“Militaries are getting better at overthrowing elected governments.”

As democracy is in peril, so is civilization.

True Believer

A recent letter to the editor of my local paper serves as a model of the true believer, an extreme example of what sustained exposure to right-wing  propagandists like the late Rush Limbaugh and Fox News star personalities can do to the human brain. The writer has become convinced that government is the root of all evil — not just the federal government, but all governments. 

Some letters in this vein are barely literate. This one exhibits excellent prose style and mastery of basic grammar. The author seems to be intelligent and well-educated, but that didn’t insulate her from nonsensical ideology. She states: “The governments have taken away every right that they can. They have forced the economy to the bottom limits of sustainability. . .  The abuse of power that these self-righteous nobodies (governors. mayors, council members, commissioners and of course know-nothing health department heads) is disgusting to say the least. It is way, way beyond time for us to take our country and our lives back. Why don’t we set a date of March 1?”

Take back our country? Wasn’t that what the rioters attempted on January 6th. They set their goal too low, aiming just at Congress. Government at every level must go –– and tomorrow, March 1st. Then what? That’s the question right-wing propagandists never come to grips with.

The CPAC Show

Watching clips from the CPAC conference, the annual gathering of right-wing politicians, held this year in Orlando, is a depressing experience. I saw Ted Cruz pacing back and forth, gesticulating as he ranted about his dedication to democracy, the Constitution, the people! Trump’s speech, in which he may be expected to reiterate the Big Lie that the election was stolen from him, is yet to come.

The whole lot of them have their sights set on ending democracy, ignoring the Constitution, and duping or excluding the people. As Jenifer Rubin commented in a Washington Post column yesterday, “The problem is that the GOP has transformed into a cult of the person who instigated the attack, fed propaganda to radicalize his party and refused to denounce white supremacists.” 

American Plutocracy

Robert Reich is a master of statistics. He uses them to illuminate that we are living in a plutocracy. Plutocrats have most of the money. As a general rule, plutocrats donate to Republican politicians, and Republican politicians vote to serve the interest of plutocrats, which for the most part is to get even richer. Republicans are aligned against the stimulus bill and raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In a Facebook posting yesterday, Reich noted: “The 1.3 trillion wealth gain by America’s 660 billionaires since the pandemic began would pay for a stimulus check of $3,900 for every one of the 331 million people in the U.S. and the billionaires would be as rich as they were before the pandemic.” 

Even the billionaires would get $3,900 each! Those worth about four billion, for example, would each get about one-millionth richer than they were before their stimulus check arrived. Richer ones, worth about forty billion (much much less rich than Jeff Bezos), would only get only one-ten-millionth richer. Really, there’s  not much in it for them.

White Supremacists  

If white supremacists think that they are supreme, that they are superior to non-whites, why are they so fearful of them? Why do they feel so threatened? Could it be that they fear that they are not superior after all; that non-whites might out-compete them? Do they think so little of themselves that they need to protect themselves from non-whites? 

Let’s Do Something Right That Would Be Shameful Not To Do

A New York Times editorial this morning begins: “The United States allows more than 10 million American children to live in poverty, bereft of resources and opportunity.” This is a shocking indictment of our society. Cheers for the Times editorial board for endorsing Mitt Romney’s plan to come as close as we can to eliminating child poverty by having the Social Security Administration distribute adequate cash to impoverished families without requiring them to file income tax returns as a condition of eligibility.

Wouldn’t it be great if the present Congress could bring off such a shining accomplishment? Cost is not a problem. Rich people in this country are overflowing with money. It will barely dent their bank accounts to raise tax rates on them enough to pay for it. Those among them who have any sense of decency and care for the common good will welcome it. 

What the Republican Party Has Be