Sunday, August 20, 2017

Exit strategies Part II: Surprising aspects of the 25th Amendment

Is there an exit strategy, in case the crazy gets even worse? Given the rapidity of events, I decided to offer a second weekend posting with some urgent perspectives.

You'll recall that last time I posed “four options.”  Among those exit strategies, I urged that we look away from impeachment, which would only serve the interests of those who provoke this phase of civil war. (Don't go there!) Indeed, as the clinical symptoms displayed by President Trump grow ever more extravagant, folks have started to stare longingly at the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Yes, you've seen articles lately discussing this option... all of them extremely shallow and missing a key point we'll reveal here. But for starters, do give it a careful read, because things could get critical very fast. The pertinent stuff starts here:

'Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.'

Note this line in particular: "...or of such other body as Congress may by law provide..." 

Hence Congress can establish, by law, a commission of sages who may - in coordination with the Vice President - declare the President unfit to discharge his duties. Interesting. But has anyone, especially in Congress, actually thought through the implications? 

The group that one might normally expect to invoke this amendment — the Cabinet — is filled with Trumpists and some bona fide crazies. They will at best be slow to act on any Vice Presidential request to declare POTUS incapacitated… and hence the VP may also hesitate to ask, even at some critically dangerous moment. 

But consider that other body the 25th talks about. Note: there is no prescribed time sequence, so an alternative commission could be created in advance, and thenceforth serve as a warning to the President, to remain calm. In order to be established "by law," over-riding a presidential veto, the 'other body' would have to be bipartisan.

Moreover, this commission would be able to act - in concert with the VP - almost instantly, should POTUS issue bizarre or especially dangerous orders, offering a way for sane grownups to cancel some crazy action or command. The mere existence of such a commission might ease the pangs of our Officer Corps, knowing they would have a place to turn, if some spasmodic-insane order came down.  I know of nowhere else that they could turn.

Without such a Congressionally established commission in existence, the VP would have to assemble the Cabinet behind the President's back and persuade a majority to betray the man who hand-picked them and to whom they owe everything. Which path do you think is more likely to act as a brake on sudden, spasm-lunacy?

The 25th Amendment continues: "Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

There it is again. The "other body" or Congressionally-appointed commission - in conjunction with the VP - may then reject the President's demand to be reinstated... sending the matter for decision by Congress. A 2/3 vote is then required in both houses to keep POTUS suspended. 

Thus we have an answer to anyone who claims this step would bypass the popular will, or create undue burdens on the presidency. There are several places where 2/3 majorities are required from both houses, plus cooperation from the Vice President... a far steeper set of obstacles, by the way, than is required for impeachment.

"Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office."

It is infuriatingly unclear what happens during the four days that Congress has to assemble and the 21 days it has to deliberate. I would assert that during those 25 days the VP is in charge. The Supreme Court would almost certainly have to decide.

What is clear is that there’s a way for Congress to lay groundwork in advance, to protect the Republic from an unstable president. A commission can be established... right now... that waits, ready to bypass the Cabinet in this one matter, but still requires both consent and courageous leadership from the Vice President. 

As a way to firm-up its trust and moral authority - especially since establishing it requires a law and hence likely an over-ridden veto - any such commission should be nonpartisan. I'd envision it starting with all the former presidents, vice presidents and retired Supreme Court Justices, plus an array of mighty American notables. (I'd add all U.S. winners of the Nobel Prize.)  And recall, that commission would be backed by the Constitution itself and empowered to cancel or postpone any rash presidential order, by exercising its right to hand reins over to the VP for a limited time.  

The circuit breaker for a mentally ill president is already provided for... if Congress chooses to use it. Note also that Senators and Representatives who might balk at a rush to impeach and remove might go along with simply creating a commission that could elevate the veep for a few days.

Even if such an action has only brief effect and POTUS is reinstated — recall it takes 2/3 of both houses to prevent that — the effect will still be to assure a pause for calm and reflection, during which any rash orders may be put on hold.

Believe me, I see flaws in this as well!  Given that Mike Pence is a member of an end-the-world-as-soon-as-possible cult, and has expressed utter devotion to Donald Trump, I am only somewhat eased.  

Still, I have to wonder. Do you think Congressional leaders are even aware of all this? Has anyone, anyone at all, worked it out down to this level? That the U.S. Constitution itself would support establishing a commission of sages in advance? One that would thereupon be able to act swiftly to protect us?

== ADDENDUM: Someone has, indeed, thought of it... ==

Since posting this, I stumbled across proof that others noticed the same thing. Alas, though, it's a Democrat.  And his well-meant efforts may have harmed, rather than helped promote such a commission.

"Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (D-Md.) bill seeks to create the Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity to fill a role outlined by the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which sets up presidential removal procedures."

This article is inaccurate and inflammatory in a few ways. But it shows that back in May Rep. Raskin at least noticed and pondered the inner meanings of the 25th. There's real overlap with my approach, but with emphasis on the commission being much more medical in nature: 

"Raskin wants to provide a specific “body” comprised of 10 physicians, psychiatrists and retired former leaders — like presidents and vice presidents — chosen by House and Senate leaders of both parties."

This could be a basis for negotiation about the actual bill, which would have to pass both houses... likely by 2/3 to override a veto. But I think Rep Raskin misses the point that even if Congress creates it, this "other body" cannot do a thing without the Vice President's cooperation and consent. The VP is central.

Moreover, this will be dismissed as partisan posturing, unless it is promulgated above-all by Ryan and McConnell, and they won't make any such move until it's almost too late.

So here's my clever political recommendation.  Staffers for Ryan and McConnell must discreetly approach a dozen important retired generals and admirals and ask them:

 "Do you believe that establishing such a commission in advance, so that the Vice President can act swiftly in a crisis, would enhance the security and safety of the United States?"

That's it.  If the response is yes, then it should happen. And history may remember those who prevented the simple measure.

(I will keep an eye on this Jamie Raskin fellow, though.)

== Another use ==

Okay, let me share a Doonesbury-level summer daydream. 

Such a commission — established for one constitutional purpose — could serve us in other ways. For example, by informally using the members' high-renown to help set up or endorse reputable fact-checking services that are beyond partisan reproach. 

Imagine both presidents Bush plus Obama, Clinton, Gore, Biden .... and Cheney and Quayle ... joining Sandra Day O'Conner and a dozen other luminaries saying "facts exist and here are several groups we trust to debunk all the lies going around."

Nothing would help us more than some process by which Americans could declare “our greatest sages and best minds say that’s false. So let's put at least that lie behind us.” 

== One way Bannon was right ==

My new posting pattern is to use the first half to address urgent news... and then segué to some of the less-urgent ruminations I've stored up.  So here we go with part 2.

While his malignant influence was partly responsible for the illness, I do agree with the departed-but-unlamented Dark Lord of the West Wing about one thing: the necessity of reversing the decline of U.S. influence, especially vis-a-vis trade and intellectual property. 

Moreover, those of you rejoicing over that decline have no idea, clearly, what the entire rest of human history was like before the 90% benign American Pax. (I agree that the bad 10% really sucked. Culpa nostrum. Now find another era with such a low ratio.)

Here is a very perceptive and articulate Australian view on Trump at the G20. It's actually the best summation of our situation that I've heard or read or seen, all in a compact, on-air report about POTUS effectively ceding leadership of the world to China and Russia. The background image - of the president of the United States, friendless, wandering the lunch table at G20 looking for any of the leaders willing to have him join them - would be heart-melting, if not so richly earned.  (Though thanks Australia… for Rupert Murdoch.)

But it all comes full circle to the weapon our enemies have used to put us into decline... fostering the failure mode that Arnold Toynbee called the destroyer of nations... the demolition of trust in our creative or knowledge castes.

More than half of the Republicans surveyed in a recent Pew poll say colleges and universities are hurting the country, a drastic shift from how the same group viewed such institutions two years ago. Alas, this article doesn't go to the heart of why. Every single fact-using profession is now warred upon by Fox and right-media... scientists, teachers, doctors, journalists, economists, judges, civil servants... and now the "deep state" FBI, Intelligence Officers and the U.S. Military Officer Corps. 

The Orwellian hate fest toward fact-people became essential, as they are the ones standing in the way of a re-imposition of 6000 years of feudalism.  And what do all fact-folks have in common?  Nearly all were influenced by the fact-using places called colleges and universities.

There's more to it, of course, and I explore the disease in more detail here: "Declining trust in our expert castes: what are underlying causes?"

To be clear, this extends to previously exempt groups of fact-users. Elsewhere I have gone on about how the FBI, CIA, and military officers used to be safe from the murdochians’ all-out war on sapient professions. Only now – prompted by the noxious “deep-state” meme -- confederates feel free to wage open war on those fact-people, too.

Civil servants have always been hated-on by the far-right (though Adam Smith extolled them as a counterweight against aristocratic cheaters.) But they were given safety by laws passed since the 1880s (by Republicans, no less.) I have a libertarian corner of me that is willing to discuss how bureaucracies are ever in need of being refreshed to prevent cloying meddlesomeness. Still, we have a civilization with rules and compromises that we agreed to by sovereign political processes.  And while politics has been (temporarily) destroyed by the murdochian-confederates, we still have a civilization to maintain, and civil servants are there to keep a complex society spinning.

Now comes an exposé in Foreign Policy revealing how alt-righters are savagely attacking this final, fact-using group. Career civil servants often endure stressful working conditions, but in the Trump White House, some of them face online trolling from alt-right bloggers who seek to portray them as clandestine partisans plotting to sabotage the president’s agenda. The online attacks often cite information that appears to be provided by unnamed White House officials or Trump loyalists.

“The trend has unnerved the career intelligence analysts, diplomats, security experts, and military officers who are accustomed to operating outside the political arena,” write the authors Brannen, de Luce and McLaughlin.

The anecdotes in this article are deeply  disturbing. But above all they are indicative of the full breadth of this war upon any semblance of objective reality or sapience in American life or governance. The smart bomb question that I ask everyone to use, when they confront their mad-right-confederate uncles (or better-yet, their aunts, who might yet be swayed) is: “Can you name for me one fact-centered profession of high knowledge and skill that is not under attack by your cult?”

As it happens, there are two remaining groups who both have some degree of intellectual accomplishment, and are utterly exempt from the right’s War on All Smartypants.  They are:

Doctors of Divinity

… and…

… members of the CEO-WallStreet-Inheritance caste.

Both groups are beneficiaries of staggeringly huge tax breaks that they extort from us all, via dependent politicians. Both have everything to win, if all the fact-users are destroyed, or at least crushed into submission.

Both have helped to bring about the long-delayed Decline of the West.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gloom and doom scenarios

We've entered a new phase... Generally, I prepare these things in spurts, as much as a few weeks in advance. But events are moving so fast that I must use a new style. These postings will henceforth be in two parts. The well-written and deeply pondered stuff is below...

...but we'll lead with something from the latest news.

And no, I cannot even catch up on the firing of Steve Bannon! I'll link you to my earlier attempts to decrypt this bizarre figure... and the dangerous "triumph of the will" ethos he embodies.  Though in fact, his fall may have come more because he wanted the U.S. to finally stand up for itself in international trade. His one sensible policy may have got him fired.

== Everyone's raving about end games ==

Oh calm down already! All right, you desperately want to envision a way out of this torment. Then ponder four scenarios: 

(1) Impeachment is extremely unlikely, unless Robert Mueller finds smoking guns, big ones. In which case idiot Democrats will call a mob and Ryan will rub his hands with glee, letting them clean up the GOP's mess while riling the confeds to volcanic fury. He'll become VP and we'll tumble into hot civil war. Don't fall for it.

(2): The 25th Amendment.  Trump and Pence would send "letters" back and forth at an ever-accelerating rate until the email servers melt. Congressional Republicans will dither, covering their ears to the blatant psychological melt-down of the man-with-nukes.  Till the Supreme Court has to step in with some kind of non-Constitutional arbiter. Insane amounts of damage.  

Yes, Congress could appoint a commission of sages that could have real power for good, under the 25th. I comment on this, below. If the right people were on it, our nation could ease out of civil war.  And the chances McConnell and Ryan would do this are nil.

(3) Donald Trump is pressured to resign. Um right. That would require something on the order of the Pee Tape. Nothing less and probably much more. You got hopes.

A hybrid seems possible.  DT takes a 'stress break.' A vacation with no electronics of any kind. Dems should insist they get to see him, daily.

(4) Status quo. The circus goes on and on. We depend utterly on the sane adults of the civil service, intel community, law professionals and the U.S. military officer corps to keep us safe, while Donald Trump adds fuel to phase 8 of the Civil War, destroying the Republican brand and riling up the Union to truly take up the fight.... ideally winning overwhelming victory at the ballot box. (Though that will also require dems wising up on tactics.)

#4 doesn't mean passivity! Congress must rescind the 2001 War Powers Act now!  And set up a commission of sages that can (if unanimous) allow the military to pause a presidential command. That commission could be explicitly granted 25th Amendment powers giving it real muscle. (If it is partisan, then we're entering Venezuela territory.  So start with all the ex-presidents, ex-Vice Presidents and ex Supreme Court Justices. Throw in every U.S. Nobel laureate?) 

The fact that DT has made such thoughts necessary - and forced the Joint Chiefs to (just yesterday) issue statements contradicting a presidential statement - is the worst symptom of this disease.  Though remember. Fox is the disease. Donald Trump is only a symptom.

Any "fifth option" I can think of is too horrific for words and I denounce it, in advance.

My advice, especially to Democratic politicians, remains not to fall for traps laid by Paul Ryan and Rupert Murdoch, as I put it here. Though yes!  I still pray for a dem smart and courageous enough to do this.

Above all, you guys need to calm down. Ponder that DT's White House leaks like a sieve, rendering it somewhat harmless... but  Mike Pence - if he gets in - would fill the place with tightly-disciplined Dominionists who will sincerely strive every day to bring about the Book of Revelation's end-of-days. 

We're supposed to be the smart people. We have all of the fact-user professions, right? Use that. Think.

And if that wasn't cheery enough for you...

== Dire Warnings ==

David Wallace-Wells has stirred angst galore, via an article in New York Magazine crying out “Alas, Babylon!” – that all hope is lost. In “The Uninhabitable Earth Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think,” Wallace-Wells cites doomsday scenarios of exintinction level events, such as heat death, drought, food shortages, and climate plagues.

Among the many responses out there, one that is brief cogent, well-written – by Jim O’Donnell – first summarizes the reactions, then gets on to important points. Jim doesn’t weigh how wrong or right Wallace-Well’s assertions might be (I found many of them to be exaggerated, if pointing in needful directions), but focuses instead on the fire and brimstone pulpit slamming preachiness of Wallace-Wells, whose ethos is clearly “we’re all doomed, so get up off your butts! Because, did I mention that we’re all doomed, no matter what anyone does?”

I have long inveighed that reflexive gloom is being pounded into citizens for a variety of reasons:

1. Would be oligarchs, pushing for a return to 6000 years of feudalism, know that fear was always feudalism's foundation and fearful personalities are more likely to seek what George Lakoff calls the "strong father."

2. Reformers at the other end of the (lobotomizing/simplistic) "left-right spectrum" push gloom for reasons of puritan righteousness.  They believe you can get folks to invest heavily in planet-saving or tolerance-spreading endeavors by screaming jeremiads. Hence, it is on the left that immense rage boiled against Stephen Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," and against Peter Diamandis's "Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think" -- books that laid down long lists of things that have gone very well and portend more good things, to come.

The underlying reason for hatred of Pinker and Diamandis and others is not based on their actual positions and recommendations -- both of them urge vigorous action and doubling-down on liberal efforts to save the world -- but on their message that these efforts will go better if pursued by a confident people, whose can-do spirit is grounded in past accomplishments. 

Their sales pitch -- that modernist, scientific, liberal society has achieved miracles and hence should feel encouraged and propelled to do more -- is anathema to those stoked on indignat joys of denunciation. (See this counter-productive - and often deeply sick - sanctimony addiction explicated in my article on self-righteousness.)

3. Another driver has been our shared mythologies -- especially Hollywood films, but also my own realm of novels and stories.  Fiction often conveys positive values: e.g. Suspicion of Authority (SoA), tolerance, diversity, and appreciation of eccentricity. (Almost all protagonists exhibit some eccentric trait, which helps bond with the audience.) But two other messages are almost always purveyed, out of a laziness that makes plotting easier, but that spreads a poison:

-  No institution is ever to be trusted.
-  Your neighbors are all useless, clueless, cowardly sheep.

These are blatantly untrue, yet purveyed in a firehose of myths and memes. I explain the basic reason in my article The Idiot Plot. 

Now add in a distrust of smartypants know-it-alls, which the right has exploited and converted into all-out memic war against science, journalism, teaching, universities, medical doctors and every other clade of fact-users, now including even the FBI, Intel communities and military officer corps. (All of the latter are now "deep state" conspirators.)

Jim speaks of how "societies which fared best are those able and willing to adapt."  This reiterates the conclusion reached by one of the world's greatest historians, Arnold Toynbee, who found that societies collapsed when they failed to invest in a liberal diversity of "creative minorities" who could respond to challenges with fresh solutions.  (Jared Diamond's more recent book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, made the same point, but focused narrowly on environmental (often man-made) challenges.)

The long and short of it is that liberals and leftists are allies, for now, but psychologically very different.  While the latter are steeped in radical, angry, sanctimonious and zero-sum thinking - you either follow the party line or the world dies! - the former tend toward positive sum belief in a balance between dire warnings and willingness to at least glance at how far we've come, perhaps even accepting that progress has happened. Indeed, that is the best reason to believe that we can accomplish more.

= Coda: Papa Heinlein would want you to use him right now. Use him! =

I will keep going back to The Master. 

You out there who make excuses for today's madness on the right? You badly need to look again at Robert Heinlein, who tore into the potential for an alliance of oligarchs and pulpit pounders taking over America... a cabal that would --

"promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."

Read more of Heinlein's spectacular insights into our problem. In this linked blog I gave the podium over to RAH, from his afterword to REVOLT IN 2100. And he offers no comfort, no shelter, no justification to those who called him a member of the crazy right. Oh, sure, he hated commies too! But there's no ambiguity which side he'd be on in this phase -- in any phase -- of the American Civil War.

Oh, you Catholics? Don't imagine you'll be exempt. Not when it hits the fan. Or Methodists or Mormons or Israelis etc, either. Listen to Papa Heinlein. Snap out of it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A coming recession? A war? Or just "infrastructure" graft? Oh, the options!

FLASH addendum up top: Just in case the rumors have substance... Mike Pence hurrying home, GOP senators huddling, a possible Mueller smoking gun... Please, oh please, curb your enthusiasm and read this!  Get every democrat to read it. Especially every DP congress member. Impeachment is a trap. Try, oh try, to be the smart ones, for a change.


Let me put aside the blatancy of our deliberately re-ignited phase of the American civil war.  There are other matters afoot, all sharing a common theme. Lumped together, they add up to everything desired by those seeking an end to the relatively placid and benign era of Pax Americana.

First, economics. Says investment guru John Mauldin, predicting a recession within two years

“U.S. corporations are simultaneously more indebted, less profitable, and more highly valued than they have been in a long time. Furthermore, they are intentionally making themselves more leveraged by distributing cash as dividends and buying back shares instead of saving or investing that cash. Yet investors cannot buy their shares fast enough. Maybe this will end well… but it’s hard to imagine how.”

Note that while he would never admit it, John's forecast is a brutal indictment not of his bêtes noir -- the government and Fed -- but a CEO caste of 5000 incestuously conniving golf buddies, who have set things up (except in the tech sector) so they can steal company assets, use stock buy-backs to boost share price, rake their options and leave the company wrecked, deprived of R&D or any investment beyond a one-year ROI.

These parasites are the true enemies of market enterprise.  And their shortsighted greed may not escape notice, when that recession comes.

== Drumming up a war ==

But that exercise in biased perception ain’t nothing. Remember how the previous Republican president concocted a war-excuse called “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD)? In the wake of the 9/11 attacks that he arguably allowed to happen, Bush Jr. leaned hard on the U.S. intelligence community (IC) to pin the blame on Saddam Hussein. When they reported no such connection – indeed, most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudis, trained in Wahhabi madrassas and financed by business partners of the Bush family – he and Dick Cheney put thumb screws on the IC to find another excuse – any excuse – for war.

That was the previous manic phase of Republican Bipolar Disease and it seems we’re fast diving into another, as the Trumpists seek escape from domestic woes.  Elsewhere I’ve explored the reasons why their focus will likely be Iran. Sure, North Korea and Venezuela offer tasty temptations. A flare-up in the South China Sea? Maybe. A terror outrage somewhere at home? Don't be shocked!

But none of these offer the confluence of motive, means and opportunity that DT sees in Iran. Moreover reports suggest that he is already arm-twisting the IC, demanding they stop with the boring truth and fact-telling and offer up the casus belli  pretext that he needs.

This article about the hunger for a fight is pretty harsh and partisan.  I’d read it with some grains of salt. But it’s also generally on-target and scary as heck. 

What of recent events? Exactly as I predicted, both Donald Trump and the Ayatollahs have ordered their forces in the Persian Gulf to harass each other, with only one possible motive: a ramp-up to war. Everyone wants it. Trump needs a foreign distraction, Congressional Republicans need feel-good symbolic toughness, the Saudis and dumber Israelis want Tehran knocked down a notch. Putin rubs his hands, knowing such a conflict will send Iran running for shelter under his umbrella, giving him the warm water satrapy Russian potentates have wanted for 300 years. Oh, and the Iranian mullahs? Shrugging off the pippety-pops of a few hundred Tomahawks, they'll use war fever to crush the rising, educated, modernist Persian middle class, a looming threat to their theocracy. 

Oh, and oil prices will skyrocket. Winners all around! Well, not the Iranian or American people. But do you see anyone caring about them? Or the waste of our military strength and personnel?

Why do we still have a carrier task group there? Across the last 8 years, the U.S. achieved virtual energy independence. Our allies are heading that way. What possible reason would we have to cooperate with the Putin-Saudi-Ayatollah-Trump plan, pushing each other with potemkin provocations till the missiles fly? This is not 'national self-interest.' It is the Gulf of Tonkin, all over again.

== Hacking Elections ==

Hackers at Defcon took just minutes to break into and modify a wide array of voting machines. Officials from California provided some. Other  machines were bought on Ebay, and were manufactured by major U.S. voting machine companies such as Diebold Nixorf, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Winvote. `This isn't a great surprise, since many of those companies are owned by political extremists who targeted this vulnerability, ages ago. 

The chief safeguard has always been a system that involved paper ballots or receipts that are scanned in... but that can also be hand audited, in randomly chosen precincts. Wherever random hand recounts are possible, cheating is deterred.

Auditable paper ballot/receipt systems are the norm in blue states. Not in red states, where the GOP Secretary of State can pretty much order up any election result she desires. Also it is blue states and only blue states that have seen voter revolts to end gerrymandering.  And voter initiatives to ease out of the insane War on Drugs. Oh, lecture us about election fraud! Lecture us about dishonesty, confederates.
== Infrastructure on the agenda ==

Ah, infrastructure. One thing all studies agree upon is that a healthy array of highways, bridges, railways and such are like a nation’s veins and arteries, allowing commerce to flow. Under FDR, then Truman and Eisenhower, the “Greatest Generation” invested heavily in interstates, airports, research centers, power systems, hospitals and so on, with huge and unquestioned multiplier effects on the economy. Time and again, it’s proved that well-done projects pay-off and maintenance is money well-spent. Moreover, no form of government spending has higher direct effects on economic stimulation and employment and Money Velocity.

So, why have we been tumbling deeper and deeper into infrastructure malaise, with decaying bridges, corroding highways and underfunded rails?  All parties have uttered words about this, for decades. President Obama submitted proposal after proposal to Congress… and none was even brought up for serious discussion.

Of course the answer was obvious.  Had an Infrastructure Bill passed, during the Republican Congresses of 2011-2016,  it blatantly would have added to economic recovery from the Bush Depression, and the GOP wanted no part of any action that might add to Obama’s luster. (As it is, the recovery during his administration was impressive.)  For purely political reasons — and Paul Ryan and others are on record saying so — they would pass no infrastructure bill during a Democratic President’s tenure. (The word for that is “treason.”)

Okay, now the Republicans have every branch of government — as they did from 2001 to 2007. With a GOP president to claim credit for any stimulation, and terrified of a recession looming otherwise, Ryan and co. are talking up an Infrastructure Bill that might amount to a trillion dollars! Well, okay, at least workers would get jobs. And the treason is over, right?

Wrong. As you might guess, there are several rubs.

1) Paying to build and repair out of tax revenues… the way our parents did it… would conflict with Ryan & co.’s absolute top priority — another huge Supply Side Voodoo tax cut for the aristocracy. Never mind that Supply Side experiments have never worked, ever, at all, even once across 40 years, and many Red States like Kansas have gone bankrupt by doubling down on the witchcraft theory.  To paraphrase Everett Dirksen “A Trillion here, a Trillion there… pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

2) Hence, get others to pay for the infrastructure work! Their magical incantation is now “public-private partnerships.” We the people hand over our property — our bridges, highways and all that — to private interests (e.g. Republican moguls) who will then put some cash into repairs and then charge tolls forever on routes that till-now we (mostly) used as a benefit of civilization.

A win-win? We get some potholes and rusty spans fixed. The moguls get ownership (or lifespan-long leases) of our commons, plus perpetual right to bleed us. Oh, but it gets much worse than I described, here. Read what Robert Reich has to say about this win-win-win for oligarchy.  

3) Of course this is not about jobs or even supply side tax vampirism. It is about graft. As in contracting for an Atlantic City Casino, construction deals are among the juiciest ways to do corruption, unless they are handled with scrupulous transparency and accountability. Which most public infrastructure programs do feature! The methods have been developed ever since the WPA and TVA and Interstate System. They never work perfectly, but they generally keep theft down to a low simmer… far lower than most private enterprises, in fact.

Only all of these nit-picking, open-bidding and accountability procedures are being torn down by the Trump Administration. Gee. I wonder why an Atlantic City casino owner would do that? Note the the only winners of the wasteful, trillion dollar US intervention in Iraq were Cheney Bush family companies like Halliburton, who got sweetheart "emergency" no-bid logistics contracts, bypassing anti-graft laws with a wave of a pen. The GOP lords are in no hurry to fund infrastructure projects until those inconvenient accountability rules are either repressed or swept aside, in the next "emergency."

4) Never mind. Blue states have already decided not to wait. Especially in California, Oregon and Washington, restore-and-rebuild projects are proceeding apace, the old fashioned way, as time and again we prove that the Greatest Generation were right in many more ways than wrong...

... back when "America was great!" And when that generation's favorite living human was named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fight the insanity & stupidity... as if you're sane and smart

This one's been sitting in the queue for a while, while the craziness just piles higher, each and every day. So let me begin by addressing just the most fearsome of so many recent lunacies.

Congress must cancel the 2001 War Powers act that gave the president (based on those WMD lies) pretty much carte blanche. If they had a glimmer of gumption they would replace it with a commission of American sages who can - if unanimous - free the military chain of command to ignore or pause precipitate or suicidal orders from any POTUS.

This would likely pass any Supreme Court test. A president is "commander-in-chief" - a tactical role afforded by the Constitution, but Congress has the right to declare actual war and that right must be taken back. Now.

And sure, the saber rattling today is about North Korea. (Elsewhere I've offered a way to motivate China to act, at last -- by declaring they'll be liable for civil damages for any actions taken by Kim. Those accountants will take that seriously!) But come on. Korea? Really?

Bannon and Gorka and every other oligarchic power center, from the Iranian mullahs to the Saudis and many less-smart Israelis to our oil barons and -- above all -- Vladimir Putin all desperately want Donald Trump to distract the world from his troubles by pouring brief swarms of pippety-poppety tomahawks into Iran, making lots of flash and doing very little real harm, while oil prices skyrocket, the mullahs crush the Persian democrats and Putin gets a loyal protectorate. And yes, the mullahs would chortle with joy, as their power in Tehran is locked-in for another generation. It is the win-win scenario deeply desired by every despot on Earth.

But enough said about today's mania.  Let me now put in some bigger perspectives, before the next news cycle exhausts us, further.

== "Resistance" isn't futile. But do it smart ==

Never let it be said that the left lacks its own (much smaller but loud) array of impulsively emotional fools.  “Several thousand protesters marched through downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, waving signs and chanting, “Down, down, down with Trump — up, up, up with the people” as they urged Congress to impeach the president.” 

Oh sure, go ahead and march. But it’s absurd to use the “I” word, yet. Impeachment now would be the height of stupidity, for reasons that I lay down – clearly – here.   

But the simplest is that our civil servants and military officers are now totally alert and will stymie anything truly awful. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is the Republicans’ problem. His replacement - in contrast - would run a tightly disciplined White House packed with Dominionist fanatics, bent on ending the world… and I mean that literally. Go read my many reasons for patience.

Even better would be for some Democrats to use what is blatant about Donald Trump’s psychology!  Is not a single democratic politician able to see?  Actually see what we have before us? Or read a psychological profile?  The dems – led by Schumer, Warren and Franken – need to gather and pick straws.  And the short straw “winners” will have a simple duty – that I lay out here.  It must be done!  For the sake of our nation, civilization and children!

== Pundits: Good, the Bad the Hopeful and Ugly ==

I’ll start with the ugly. This essay, by Vijad Prashad is utter drivel.  A complete panic-rant.  It contains almost nothing that is either true or helpful. And hence, I urge you to read it and inoculate yourself against the kind of leftist babble that will not aid us in our mission of overcoming the right’s psychotic madness. Panic… does… not… help. 

In sharp contrast is this test of your maturity: "How I became a man without a party," by Bruce Bartlett, a lifelong Republican who served in the Reagan White House. (His latest book: The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News.) In moving gradually – then hastily – against the growing Republican/confederate insanity, he does not apologize for – or recant – at least some of the Reagan-conservative views that he then supported. Others, he admits, appear to have failed. But, he asserts, they sincerely seemed worth trying, at the time. In other words, while conservative, he is also a human being and citizen who is grownup enough to heed facts and evidence. 

Bartlett now freely admits what any sensible citizen must: that the entire conservative movement has been hijacked by monsters.

The incompetence of the George W. Bush administration finally drove me over the edge…. In 2005, I wrote a book attacking Bush from the right called Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy”. No Republican today would disagree with a word that I wrote, but, at the time, criticizing a Republican president was grounds for defenestration. I was fired from my job at a conservative think tank and banished from polite Republican company.”

For a few years, I still considered myself to be a Republican, hoping that some degree of sanity would be restored. But it only got much worse. The election of Obama seemed to drive even moderate Republicans over the edge into hysterical hatred and opposition, egged on by the so-called tea party, which consisted entirely of people who knew absolutely nothing about government or policy except that they were mad as hell.

“This dictatorship of the idiocracy drove me out of the GOP. I began referring to myself as an independent. Once freed from needing to feign party loyalty, I found myself receptive to ideas I had once rejected out of hand. I wrote a book that was skeptical of supply-side economics — the Republican theory that tax cuts are the cure for every economic problem. I wrote columns sympathetic to the welfare state and other heresies. I lost the last few Republican friends I had.”

In other words, this fellow is an archetype of the people we must find, hunt down, and confront, grabbing their lapels until they agree to harrow with us out of hell. Nothing else will make the needed difference, more than luring ten million residually sane, decent, patriotic, science-admiring American “ostrich conservatives” to lift their heads out of denial. Just 10 million, out of a population of 360 million. If we can win over that many more Bruce Bartletts, the nation – and civilization – will be saved.

I referred to this elsewhere, in urging that the Democrats create a Big Tent that’s welcoming, even to Americans who retain this or that conservative trait or view. And yes, I describe where to find candidates who can invade red districts and do this on the ground. Taking our country back. See one spectacular example that has gone viral, a retired Marine Lt. Col. fighter pilot -- she may make a huge difference in Kentucky! Though overall, little good will be done unless these super-smart missiles are aimed into every single red state assembly and senate district, too.

Ah, but will we welcome these folks? Bartlett – apparently sincere – fears we won’t. He writes,I’ve grown to hate my former party. You’d think this would make me a prime candidate for recruitment by the Democrats. But I’m not. First, no Democrat has ever reached out to me. I am not insulted by this, only surprised. And my efforts to suggest ideas to Democrats have been uniformly rebuffed. Like the Republicans, Democrats are wary of apostates and are only receptive to those born into their church, it seems.”

Like so much of what this former Reaganite believed, we must prove that this, too, is mistaken.

== The soup-du-jour ==

The article/essay that's circulating most widely, right now is "How America Lost Its Mind The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history," by Kurt Anderson, which appears in this issue of The Atlantic.  

It might not cheer you up.  (And I don't agree with every appraisal.) 

But now that the War on Science and against all fact-using professions has spread to include the "deep state" FBI, Intelligence agents and the U.S. Military Officer Corps, we really need to dust off our supposedly superior brainpower to solve the potentially lethal sickness of Idiocracy.

 == Hypocrisy at the top ==

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert was released from prison in Minnesota. For 6 years this admitted child molester was head of the Republican Party and the GOP's standard bearer. He declared the "Hastert Rule" that threatened punishment against any Republican who, at any level or for any reason, ever negotiated - even over matters vital to the national interest - with any Democrat, helping Rupert Murdoch to turn the GOP into the most tightly disciplined partisan machine in U.S. history. 

Hastert's #2 Republican - Tom DeLay - who raised political cheating to a high art, also became a convicted felon. 

(Oh and count the number of Fox News ranters and GOP congressmen who have been revealed as sexual predators! Two recent examples? Members of the Oklahoma legislature were forced to end their time in office prematurely. State Rep. Dan Kirby (R) had a nasty habit of making unwanted sexual advances toward female members of his staff, while State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) allegedly had an even nastier habit of paying for sex...with children. So, they're both out. Then of course there's more recent news about Fox's alleged sexual predator number... 20? Eric Bolling.)

Hastert's tenure, two heartbeats from the presidency, followed the previous top Republican - a 3x divorcé - and preceded the fellow who lied to us all about WMDs and plunged us into trillion dollar quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But fundamentalists will make any excuse for the stunning immorality of GOP leaders - including the present "grabber." 

They excuse these opposite-to-Jesus stinkers for one reason. Because they hate the same folks. Scientists. Teachers. Journalists. Law professionals. Anyone who deals in facts.

When you have a common enemy, all is forgiven. And yes. Judge a movement and its members by who they proclaim as their enemies!  All the folks who look at God's creation - called objective reality - with Heaven's greatest gift. Honest curiosity.

== Miscellaneous Facts ==

The U.S. teen birth rate plummeted 53% since 2007, with a 9% drop in 2016 alone, as all of the vigorous Obama-era programs took full effect.

Robert Reich is pushing Medicare-for-all… and sure, yeah, I support it. But with open eyes, cause there are problems.  Medical care is unlimited, "non-fungible," and hence has to be rationed in one way or another. The old vile insurance system rationed by kicking out the sick and the poor to die. Europeans ration by committee and giving 'priority' to children who calculate out to have more quality years at stake. In pushing medicare-for-all, you are asking for the latter. Be honest about it. Yes it is better, but don't pretend it'll be problem-free.

And finally...

Oh, ye yanks out there; do you know any verses of the Star Spangled Banner, other than the first? Have a look - and listen to - the fifth verse added by Oliver Wendell Holmes, as our nation fell into treason and Civil War, back in the 1860s.

Here’s half:

When our land is illum'd with Liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down, with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!

The reference to betrayal from “within” seems especially apropos, as a New Confederacy rises, bent on destroying our Great Experiment in ways far more devious and effective than mere secession. Read - and  listen to - the rest. Feel stirred, awakened, and roused to duty.