21 June 2024

Netanyahu's regime deserves NO American support

I make no secret of my disdain and outright opposition to the right wing government of Israel, and its deliberate slow walking of opportunities for an end to the Gaza war, as well as its overt favoring of the Trump faction in our country. So when I read the headline in WaPo that says Netanyahu blasts US for slow weapons deliveries, my immediate response is How about NO damn weapons deliveries, Bibi? Israel is not facing an existential threat as a result of this war. A defensive response to October 7 was obviously justified, but this regime has gone way beyond that and made clear its unwillingness to work for a two-state solution. So, as an American, I believe the correct course is to cut them off, both financially and militarily, until such time as they are willing to work for and not against a peace process. Maybe Netanyahu can get help from Kim Jong Un. 

The fight of our political lives

I think of myself as fairly tuned in to the political crisis in America, and fairly clear eyed about the dangers, and the opportunities. I worry a lot about widespread misperception of Biden as impaired when he is (I hold, obviously) pretty darn sharp, even not taking his age into account. The media, and not just Newsmax and Fox, are selectively focusing on images that appear to show a bumbling old man when what he actually is is an old man with normal frailty of age, but mental acuity and comprehension and level of energy that many forty year olds lack. And he is clearly, domestically at any rate, the most progressive president since Johnson, maybe even since FDR. And of course, you have to get folks to ask themselves, compared to what? Compared to the wannabe dictator malignant narcissist convicted criminal serial abuser crook in rapid decline with what appears to be vascular dementia, himself 78 and not looking well physically at all? Who cannot focus his mind on a single subject for the length of a sentence and actually has no ideas, no understanding of policy, and no respect or even awareness of the principles of democracy on which our republic is supposed to operate? Yeah, that one. 

I'm hoping the debate (if Schlump shows up) will put this contrast in stark relief. There are hints that the obvious, and I mean obvious, contrast between these two people, and the really revolting egotism and sheer nastiness that is all he is these days, will be just unavoidable to see. I suspect even if he does show up, there will not be another debate. This will be it. 

I also worry about another egotist with no real understanding of the stakes or the historic predicament we find ourselves in; someone who has obviously gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and junk science to the point where his judgment, and even his mental health, appear to be compromised to the point of failure. I speak of RFK Jr. of course, who has no chance at all of winning even one state, but who has a lot of money and who could, just could, drain away enough votes from Biden that Biden could win the popular vote by 10 million votes and still lose this election. That would be a terrible tragedy, and I have no real idea what to do about it, other than to hammer away at why unity matters so much and why this is a classic case of a spoiler. I keep saying to people I think might be susceptible to the allure of the Kennedy name, his own family is working to defeat him, and a vote for RFK Jr is a vote for Trump. (The same being true of votes for Cornel West or the Putin stooge Jill Stein...it's just the way our elections, unfortunately, are structured constitutionally). 

In the meantime, I'm using what money I feel I can spare not only to contribute to Biden's campaign but to tight Congressional and Senate races around the country. We have a chance here to not only save Democracy but actually have a governing majority starting in 2025. Courage my friends. Much is at stake. Victory is far from assured. But the fight, and the sacrifice, is worth it. 

National Justice Law Podcast and Strange New Worlds

I listen to the really excellent National Security Law Podcast (when they deign to drop an episode now and then), put on by bigwig law professors Bobby (yes, Bobby, not Robert) Chesney and Steve Vladeck, originally from Texas, and not much over half my age. After 5 min. of blather, they finally get to the subject, in which, as I said, they excel. But when, at the end, as they invariably do, they start talking about getting their kids into elite schools, Star Wars and Star Trek spinoff shows, and (UGH!) sports, I usually tune out. Although their recommendation of Star Trek Strange New Worlds just might get me to subscribe to Paramount+ for a couple months. 

Both these esteemed gentlemen have become minor MSNBC-type celebrities, because they really know their stuff. The overgrown teenage boy personas notwithstanding. 

19 June 2024

Eight Verses for Training the Mind

As a rather lapsed Buddhist practitioner, I value greatly the medieval Tibetan Geshe Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind,* which I consider to be a statement of unalloyed wisdom and compassion. Moreover, it isn't really religious; it makes no assertions or implications of requirement for belief in any supernatural phenomena or supreme beings. It is simply a statement of philosophy, or, rather, moral verity and aspiration for relief from suffering for all, from a particular point of view.

Nonetheless, I would understand and agree with a public school finding that its teachers must not put up a copy of it in the classroom, with the implication of official endorsement, because doing so would run counter to our American tradition (and law) as a republic founded on principles including the freedom of (and from) religion in public life.

I find it troubling that, after nearly 250 years of settled law and tradition, the Legislature and governor of the State of Louisiana seem to think it's not only all right but legally permissible to post and lend official endorsement to the Ten Commandments, an explicitly monotheistic religious text. This text is not only not sacred to all, but it contains several morally dubious declarations. When I was in school, the separation of church and state was explained as a vital principle of American life, and was adhered to scrupulously. What happened? 

In my personal opinion, young people would benefit from being exposed to Langri Tangpa's verses more than to Moses' authoritarian and patriarchal text. But as both are of necessity deemed to be religious texts, neither (nor any other such) can be permitted to be officially endorsed in public education. This is not difficult to understand or unclear. Those who insist on promulgating their religion under the imprimatur of governmental authority obviously do not really believe in or support the democratic principles that are supposed to undergird our Constitution and legal framework. And that, friends, is not only wrong, it is sad.

*Eight Verses for Training the Mind, by Geshe Langri Tangpa (1023–1123)

1.  By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.

2.  Whenever I'm in the company of others,
I will regard myself as the lowest among all,
And from the depths of my heart
Cherish others as supreme.

3.  In my every action, I will watch my mind,
And the moment destructive emotions arise,
I will confront them strongly and avert them,
Since they will hurt both me and others.

4.  Whenever I see ill-natured beings,
Or those overwhelmed by heavy misdeeds or suffering,
I will cherish them as something rare,
As though I'd found a priceless treasure.

5.  Whenever someone out of envy
Does me wrong by attacking or belittling me,
I will take defeat upon myself,
And give the victory to others.

6.  Even when someone I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes
Mistreats me very unjustly,
I will view that person as a true spiritual teacher.

7.  In brief, directly or indirectly,
I will offer help and happiness to all my mothers,
And secretly take upon myself
All their hurt and suffering.

8.  I will learn to keep all these practices
Untainted by thoughts of the eight worldly concerns.
May I recognize all things as like illusions,
And, without attachment, gain freedom from bondage.


A choice

I choose to believe... possibly naively... that when it comes down to actually voting for the demented delusional Fascist malignant narcissistic abusive crook  or the experienced old guy who knows how to get stuff done and takes governance of a republic by the rules seriously, a strong majority will choose the sane guy. 

The choice of a third party candidate is mathematically equivalent in almost all contingencies as a vote for the Fascist. I just hope enough people who are attracted to the Kennedy name, despite the fact that RFK Jr. is almost as nutso butso as Trump, realize that you're not just throwing your vote away, you're voting for Trump for all intents and purposes

18 June 2024

Esoteric discussion with an AI LLM

Some few of my farflung correspondents might take an interest in this "Short Dialog with ChatGPT on Fermi and the Likelihood that Civilization in the Universe was More Common in the Distant Past than Now"

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 AUTHORITARIANISM IS UNAMERICAN
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14 June 2024

We cannot afford to just accept the unacceptable status of the Supreme Court

Once more, I just don't get it. OK, we don't have the votes. Yet. But, assuming optimistically that we can get both houses and the presidency, is there any good reason why the Supreme Court should not be subjected to some course correction? Norms? Seriously? The Fascists have trashed all norms, so just innate reluctance to change anything is not a reason not to. The following can be done without a Constitutional amendment, and assumes only that we end the filibuster once and for all, which we should:

1.  Impose strict ethical standards. $50 maximum gift, just like Congress. Recusal mandatory on any case where it would be required of any other federal judge (or any judge anywhere in the US, for that matter; why should the highest court be the least ethically constrained? There is no good reason, so no more weaseling around. Say right in the statute that "violation of ethical standards applicable to the Federal judiciary shall be considered misdemeanor and grounds for impeachment under the existing language of the Constitution." Sometimes legislative intent needs to be explicitly stated; and the fact is the Constitution already gives Congress the power to determine what the jurisdiction of the Courts is, and to set standards for their orderly administration. It's just nuts to argue this doesn't give the Congress the right to decide what kind of conduct warrants its own exercise of the impeachment power. 

2. Adopt the principle of one justice for each judicial circuit, which we had until fairly recently. There are now 13 circuits. The Congress should increase the size of the Supreme Court to 13. It takes only a statute, signed by the president. That's it. Should be done as soon as possible, highest priority. I believe a majority will support this if it's presented correctly. 

3.  Seriously look at some restrictions on what the jurisdiction of the court entails. The court needs to accept that the Congress can make laws that entail significant regulation of commerce to protect the public. The court should not be able to simply ignore all precedent and take away established constitutional rights. This is tricky, but just throwing up our hands and doing nothing is not an option

4.  While justices serve "for life" (actually during "good behavior"), the Constitution does not explicitly say that means they serve on the Supreme Court for life. We should look carefully at the constitutionality of rotating judges from the DC Circuit onto the Supreme Court, and then back off again, after a term of 5 or ten years. This might not be feasible but it should be looked at. 

5.  Finally, while it can't be done without a Constitutional amendment, we need to start at least thinking about, and planning a judicial reform Constitutional Amendment, or set of them. 10 year non-renewable terms for all Federal judges. Explicit duty to protect democracy and voting rights. There are any number of things, but the point is we need to seriously consider the reforms to be made, draft the proposed amendments, and work assiduously, even if it takes a generation, to get them passed. 

Thanks for listening to my rant, but I mean every word. The current situation is a disaster, and we need to start working on fixing it. 

Thomas must be impeached ... and/or PROSECUTED

Why are we beating around the bush? Of course we don't have the votes (yet), but, look, folks. Clarence Thomas has effectively admitted to accepting bribes. Equivocation be damned. It's corruption with a capital K. He must be impeached, convicted, and removed from office. No matter how long or how many attempts it takes. The only alternative is a 'forced resignation,' but given the pugnacious arrogance of these right wingers, who believe in nothing but themselves and their mean spirited and selfish ideology, that's not gonna happen. 

There have even been quite serious suggestions by people who know the law that he should be referred for criminal prosecution. Now. Because his "forgetting" to report more than a million dollars worth of "gifts" (bribes) is not an oversight. It's not just grounds for impeachment. It's a crime, and a very serious one that should land him in prison for the rest of his miserable, disreputable existence. 

 Alito... well, we'll see. His case is egregious but not quite as clear cut. 

Joe Biden.... of course.

I feel a certain amount of alienation, as an older forever-Democrat. I was for Bernie in 2016 (voted for Clinton in November), Warren in the primaries in 2020 (voted for Biden, naturally). I'm a solidly Progressive-wing Democrat. Like Bernie, I'm deeply troubled by US toleration of what I regard as war-crime level asymmetry in the Israeli response to Hammas terrorism. (But note: no one is doing more to help Biden get re-elected than Bernie). So you would think I would be in sync with the many younger voters who say they are lukewarm about voting, because they "don't like either candidate." 

Huhhh? Whaaat? My reaction is just the opposite. Biden, to me, is making serious errors on Israel policy, but domestically, and otherwise with regard to foreign policy (like Ukraine), he's done better than I hoped or expected. I like Biden better in 2024 than I did in 2020. 

But, regardless, you simply have to look at the alternative. The election of Donald Trump (again) would be an utter catastrophe for our country and the whole world. I had a bumper sticker made that just says "Joe Biden... of course." And for me, that says it all. 

11 June 2024

Fight of our national life

It seems all the big Democratic cheerleaders, Simon Rosenberg, James Carville, Lawrence O'Donnell, etc., are all advocating "taking the gloves off." Focus groups and polling all seem to indicate that the key to this election is to stop Trump, not to positively decide on Biden. I won't even attempt to convince any doubters that, overall, and with major exceptions, Biden has actually been a good president (especially domestically), who has accomplished more for the progressive agenda than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson, who had the same foreign/domestic schizoid problems. Other Democrats, including even Obama, made the mistake of trying to be "moderate" but also failing to appeal directly to the patriotism of Americans. 

But now, the Republicans have morphed into a literal Fascist cult. If you don't believe it, I commend Rachel Maddow's work (most recently Ultra podcast) that highlights how this has happened before too, but just outside of living memory for the most part. And the circumstances were different. We have Great Power politics again, almost like WWI, but we don't have the unifying existential threat of a Nazi Germany threatening Fascistic domination of the whole world. Quite. 

Yet the MAGA cult is indeed evil. It is completely inimical to the principles of the American republic. I'm not saying Trump supporters are evil, but they are caught up in a cult of personality of a man who has no moral compunction, no restraint, no empathy, no concern for the future or even the country; just himself. And that, in a would be leader, is the very face of evil. 

So, gloves off. Fight them in every legal way. Cede nothing. Focus on what it takes to win, but cede no territory, no victory. Pray it doesn't come to violence, but if it does, their insurrection must be defeated, by force if necessary. 

Our republic is under threat from within as others have tried, in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, but this is worse, far worse. We could, we really could, lose our republic. So every single right thinking American must get involved to make sure that does not happen. 

For me, this is straining some friendships and relationships. But that's just too bad. This is a fight for our national life, and no one can stand in the way of victory and get a pass. 

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 AUTHORITARIANISM IS UNAMERICAN
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The military and Trump

Not politically correct to note, but a good part of the rank and file of the US military comes from the Trumpen Proletariat (as a friend of mine coined the term). But when Trump untruths "Biden hates the military," he is, as usual, projecting. When it comes to the leadership of the military, by and large, I believe the truth is that most of them recognize that Trump is disloyal, and has no commitment to the Constitution which is the only loyalty military officers are required to swear an oath for. (Not to any individual person, and certainly not personally to a president). So the reality is not that Biden hates the military. It's that the military hates Trump. And this will definitely benefit right thinking Americans who will do everything we can to defeat the threats to our democracy. 

10 June 2024

Time for a Course Correction?

I think it's time for provisions similar to the way the Federal Communications Act USED TO work (when we had "equal time"), to be restored and made applicable to cable news, social media, and even the dark web. I will never understand why we can't have "rules of the road," like we used to for the public airwaves, for the internet. Sure, we let it get out of control. So what do rational people do? Throw up their hands and just surrender to perdition? Or do we TAKE BACK CONTROL, prevent constant disinformation, and make the carriers responsible for content? The fact that authoritarian regimes like China have this power and use it to suppress free expression doesn't mean we have to do what they do. But it does prove that it's perfectly possible to control access to the internet by bad actors, protect free speech but not allow nefarious forces to illicitly control what people see and hear on the net.

Supreme Court reform

New revelations of additional large value "gifts" that the worst Supreme Court justice in living memory, Clarence Thomas, "forgot" to report. Gifts which any reasonable person would have to acknowledge have the "appearance of conflict of interest." (For the simple reason that they would probably be simply called "bribery" back in the time of the drafting of the Constitution). I'm biased, I suppose, but I ask the question: we control the Senate. Why are there not hearings to investigate this? Now!? And once we win back the House, as a citizen I will be demanding that the People's House must impeach this obvious miscreant tout de suite. Next up: Alito, for similar but not identical reasons. 

On a related subject, as I see it, the only way for trust in the Court to be restored is to adopt the idea that there should be one Supreme Court justice for each of the appellate circuits. There are now 13 of them... up from... you guessed it... nine, in the last generation. Time to increase  the size of the Court (legislation, only, no amendment to the Constitution required). To 13. And the recently re-elected president should get the 4 appointments (six if the Senate convicts Alito and Thomas, but, well, that's probably a long shot, even if we do manage to hold the Senate). Time to take the gloves off. 

05 June 2024

Still rather be us than them

Simon Rosenberg's latest take on where we are in the epic battle to ensure the Orange Hitler is not made president by our fundamentally undemocratic presidential selection system. (Sorry for the editorial). 


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 AUTHORITARIANISM IS UNAMERICAN
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03 June 2024

Trump, as convicted felon, kicked off ballot in some states?

I noted on Talkingpointsmemo.com that the State of Washington prohibits convicted felons who have not had their rights restored from running for office. This would not have a huge effect on the election, since there's no way Donald Trump could win Washington anyway. But it occurred to me to ask ChatGPT (not 100% reliable, but basically usually accurate) about other states with similar laws. Here is its response.

  There are some states with specific laws concerning felons running for public office, although the details can vary widely from state to state:
 
Florida: Convicted felons must have their civil rights restored to be eligible to run for public office.
Virginia: Requires the restoration of civil rights for eligibility, and in some cases, a pardon is required specifically to restore the eligibility to seek public office.
Kentucky: Convicted felons need a pardon to restore their eligibility to run for public office, depending on the nature of their crimes.
Nevada: Individuals convicted of a felony are disqualified from holding any state office unless they have received an official pardon. [This would presumably not apply to presidential candidates.]
Connecticut: Individuals convicted of specific felony charges (corrupt practices related to public office or voting) are permanently barred from holding public office unless they receive a pardon.
Louisiana: Felons must wait five years after completing their sentence before they can qualify to run for public office unless they have received a pardon that specifically restores these rights.
Mississippi: Convicted felons are barred from running for public office unless pardoned or their rights are restored by the state legislature through a bill of relief.
 
  These laws are subject to changes, and other states might also have various restrictions, so it's always good to check the most current and applicable laws or consult with a legal expert for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

I can think of ways especially red states can, and probably will, "fix" this from Trump's point of view, but it's an interesting new wrinkle in the whole scenario of whether America is about to elect its first full-on fascist would-be dictator, or not. Interesting times.

(One issue not addressed, which may apply in Florida, is that states may have comity with other states such that if the felon would not be barred in the state where convicted, these state laws might not apply).