Drowned world

>> Friday, June 22, 2018

One of the things that frightens me, among all the many things that frighten me, is the thought of some ordinary, middle-class Berliner in 1938, 1939, some year in those ordinary extraordinary years; this Berliner, he picks up his newspaper, he glances over the headlines, he puts it down, he pecks at his breakfast and throws the rest of it in the sink or covers it up in the icebox for later, and he goes to work or for a walk.

Because there are days when it's all just too damned much.

And you go on because you have to, and you go on because you should.  But it's still too damned much.

And you wonder why you're reading your newsfeed and you're wondering why you're listening to current events podcasts, and you're wondering why you're gamely listening to the Republican Congressman from Outer Bongolia talking to NPR about the thing, or the other thing, or the other other thing.  It's too damned much.

And you wonder if it's happening here or if it already happened.  You think of all the ordinary Germans who weren't Hitler supporters and surely didn't think things were what they really were, and how those German papers we look back on today and laud for their brave and sacrificing journalists, for their courage and prescience, were actually the crazy fringe partisan press of their day.  You think about the way humans structure time and space into bright lines that are crossed or withdrawn from, when reality is just a fuzzed continuum where red muddles into violet and whatever you'd like to say is "green" is merely an arbitrary range between hues of yellow and hues of blue.

You wonder how many Germans were just tired, so tired, so, so tired, until the roof caved in and the floor collapsed, dropping them into a basement full of water.


It is a big thing, and I don't think the story will be alright

>> Monday, May 21, 2018

Into the Facebook feed this morning pops up a thing Jonathan Chait published last month in New York Magazine, "The GOP’s Never-Trumpers Are Really Just Never-Democrats." As is often the case, Chait is perspicacious about many things, and has some good points and observations.  Except that Chait does write this: 

We have in our heads a basic model of how the parties and voters are supposed to operate: If a party swings too far to one side or otherwise forfeits its claim to responsible governance, it will suffer some political consequences from voters, who will ultimately force it back. 

That intuition has a sound historical and theoretical basis. As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt show in their recent book How Democracies Die, the first and strongest defense against the election of an extreme or unfit leader is for his more mainstream partners to defect en masse. In Finland in 1930, and in Belgium later that decade, conservative politicians closed ranks with their socialist adversaries in order to block the ultranationalist right. In France last year, François Fillon called for his center-right party, the Republicans, to support Emmanuel Macron in the runoff rather than Marine Le Pen. Almost nothing of the sort has happened in the United States.

And he also writes this:

Over the long run, the country needs two small-d-democratic parties that are tethered to empirical reality. 

The problem being that a major reason you see very little coalition building in the United States of the sort you see in European parliamentary democracies is in fact the two party system of small-d democratic parties.  Those two parties are already coalition parties: the center-right and socialist wings of the Democratic Party, for example, or the libertarian and social conservative wings of the Republican Party.  There's not the kind of party-hopping Chait (correctly) sees as being a solution to the Trump problem because there's not actually anybody for a reasonable Republican to ally with who will represent him on anything OTHER than the Trump problem, and this is likely part of the reason you're seeing Republican office-holders announcing their retirements from politics and many from the small remaining fringe of reasonable registered Republicans defecting to the "independent/unaffiliated" box on their voter registration forms.  (Liberals can't really count on these defectors for future wins, by the way: it is at least as likely or more likely that these voters will abstain or quixotically vote for third parties and/or fantasy candidates like John Kasich.)

In other words, the two party system is one of the ways in which the American politcal system is fundamentally broken, hand-in-hand with the constitutional model it lives with.  In a multi-party parliamentary system, a temporary alliance between left-wing and right-wing parties to shut far-right (or far-left) extremists out of leadership roles doesn't require the parties to change their allegiances on other disputed issues like taxes, healthcare, or foreign trade.  In the United States, a never-Trump Republican faces the prospect of having nowhere else to go; to defect on Trump is to cast one's lot in with others whom one may be ideologically and temperamentally unsuited to be around, to give up on opportunities for committee appointments and leadership roles, to lose the love and trust of one's political soulmates while throwing in with people who never loved or trusted you in the first place and only grudgingly and opportunistically welcome you into their ranks.

This absolutely isn't a defense of the cowardly choice to enable Trump, or to defend (rather than explain) the meek decision to collaborate with the Occupant-In-Chief while secretly hoping the Mueller investigation or the 2018 House races or the 2020 primaries will somehow magically let one off the hook.  Rather it's an attempt to point out that Republican choices are constrained by our system, and it's a lot to ask that they choose wisely (it's also necessary to ask that they make better choices; we are not talking about what they ought to be doing differently, only about how little we can really expect from most of them by the end of the day).

(One might also point out that these circumstances constrain liberals in ways that are destructive to the body politic.  Without wishing to relitigate all the questions about the 2016 Clinton candidacy, it's undeniably fair to say that Clinton struggled to hold on the Demcrats' coalition--hence the Saunders primary campaign and the incessant critique of Clinton from the Democratic left that continued through election day and probably sucked away some percentage of Democratic votes.)

Chait talks about the Republican Party's salvation, but I think there's a fair question--one that might ultimately applied to the Democratic Party as well--as to whether it's worth saving.  This arising in the meta-context of whether the two-party system is toxic, and whether there's an actual cure for that or is it something that has become so baked into our political system that we are, in the final analysis, well and truly boned.  It's not at all clear to me that even if Reasonable Republicans rallied and purged the party of the enthusiastic Trumpers who propelled him to the nomination--the roughly one-third of the Republican voting public who are mostly white and feel alienated from a country that is going through profound economic, political, and demographic transformations that leave no place for them if the can't evolve to come to terms with Twenty-First Century America--that anything would really be solved; the Brand New GOP would be democratically compromised until or unless the Democratic coalition fell apart, the Disgruntled One-Third Ex-GOP would still be a fairly powerful faction in conservative American politics (and their numbers a temptation to the Republican Party--this being one of the ways we got into this mess in the first place).  In short, I don't really see a way out of this that continues with American Politics As We Know It, nor do I see a permanent way out of American Politics As We Know It.


An open letter to Barrister John Smith

>> Friday, April 13, 2018



    Today, 1:33 AM

    Attention: Beneficiary,

    I am Barrister John Smith, the new attorney with United Nation, I am writing to notify you of a payment file containing funds that has been issued out to you by the Federal Ministry of Finance in-conjunction with the United Nation/International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    I am new in this office and I have orders from the United Nation/International Monetary Fund (IMF) and United State Government to contact beneficiaries and make sure they receive their payment via ATM Master Card or Bank to Bank Transfer.

    Please, Can you kindly tell me the reason of your delay concerning the delivery/transfer of your funds and Why you have decide to abandon your payment worth of $12.5 million USD? If you fail to contact me back on or before 72 hours, we shall cancel the delivery/transfer of your funds and return your funds back to government reserve account, your delivery/transfer process is still pending.

    If you are ready to receive your payment then make sure to contact me back on your choice, Also make sure when contacting me you are to fill out the below information correctly.

    Full Name:................... Home/Office Address:................... Cell/Mobile Phone Numbers:...................Nearest Air Port:??????????.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Barrister John Smith



    Yesterday, 11:42 PM

    Attention: Beneficiary,

    I am Barrister John Smith, the new attorney with United Nation, I am writing to notify you of a payment file containing funds that has been issued out to you by the Federal Ministry of Finance in-conjunction with the United Nation/International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    I am new in this office and I have orders from the United Nation/International Monetary Fund (IMF) and United State Government to contact beneficiaries and make sure they receive their payment via ATM Master Card or Bank to Bank Transfer.

    Please, Can you kindly tell me the reason of your delay concerning the delivery/transfer of your funds and Why you have decide to abandon your payment worth of $12.5 million USD? If you fail to contact me back on or before 72 hours, we shall cancel the delivery/transfer of your funds and return your funds back to government reserve account, your delivery/transfer process is still pending.

    If you are ready to receive your payment then make sure to contact me back on your choice, Also make sure when contacting me you are to fill out the below information correctly.

    Full Name:................... Home/Office Address:................... Cell/Mobile Phone Numbers:...................Nearest Air Port:??????????.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Barrister John Smith

Dear Barrister Smith,

Look, John, Johnny Baby, let's just suppose for the sake of funsies that I had any idea of what you were talking about with the transfer of some completely arbitrary amount of money--it could be Francs, Pounds, Euros, Yen, Rand, Yuan, Pula, maybe even United States Dollars--from one account to another.  In order to, I don't know, facilitate the hypothetical transfer of funds from one party to another completely random stranger party never met by the party of the first part except for the several times they had really bad and degrading sex in one or more expensive hotels.  Let's just say.  And this first party, unbeknownst to itself, was entering an agreement that the despicable, treacherous, two-faced, no-good, bitch-Judas second party would never, never, NEVER admit to having engaged in sexual behavior with the party of the first part while the party of the first part waited for his hot trophy wife to get out of the maternity ward and lose all that pregnancy weight that was a total turn-off for the party of the first part and then even when she was back on her feet she no longer wanted to have sex with him as if all she ever wanted from him was a kid who'd inherit his vast estate.

Got it?  Not even if the entire thing was on a videotape in possession of a hypothetical third party sovereign nation, not even then.  Not even if the tape in question consisted of ninety-seven minutes of the party of the second part trying to think of things to say about the first party's size and sexual prowess while the first party waited for certain performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals to kick in, followed by thirty-seven seconds of missionary position intercourse, followed by the party of the second part reassuring the party of the first part that these things happen to everybody and it was really great for her, too.  No, not even then.  And no matter how much urine (oh dear God, so much urine) was in that other video in the third party's possession.  Regardless of any of that, party of the second part keeps her big greedy mouth closed if she knows what's in her best interest, and here's a big pile of money to demonstrate what good girls get for being quiet.

I may have lost the thread here.  Point is, I learned something this week.

See, what I learned this week was, turns out, remarkable this, did you know that even though everybody thinks lawyers are crooks, they aren't actually allowed to be!  It's true!  Turns out, if you're a lawyer and you do something that is technically, possibly, maybe, from a certain point of view, arguably a crime, not only do you not get fully reimbursed by your client in all instances even if you took out another fucking home equity line to facilitate all these money transfers to WOMEN WHO SHOULD KEEP THEIR FUCKING MOUTHS SHUT LIKE THEY PROMISED, but also you could have your law offices, hotel room, and home raided by Federal law enforcement authorities who managed to convince a Federal Magistrate there was "probable cause" to believe you "committed" what they characterize as "felonies"?  Seriously, who knew?

And that's not all!  See, I did some additional research, and it turns out that if the Federal authorities can "prove" that you "committed" these "felonies" to a "jury" "beyond a reasonable doubt," they can actually send you to prison, all for just trying to do a friend a small favor that might arguably skirt Federal campaign finance laws while violating the laws against money laundering!

Now, before I found this out, someone had also pointed out that fronting a client money could arguably be a violation of what are called "ethics rules."  Which is something that really threw me.  You're a barrister, so this probably interests you: turns out, when you agree to be a lawyer, and swear or affirm that you want to be a lawyer, well, turns out you're also swearing or affirming to follow all these obscure rules about being a lawyer.  Seriously!  It's true!  And it doesn't even matter if your fingers are crossed behind your back or whatever, it turns out that the "State Bar" takes really seriously.  (Did you know that the State Bar isn't actually like a real bar, it's actually an organization of lawyers who maintain professional standards for the legal community?  This is pretty embarrassing for me to admit, but I actually thought I was sending, like, club dues to a bar--we have these bars in New York City that are clubs that you have to do an annual membership for or they won't let you in unless you're with somebody famous or important, like a big-name real estate developer.  I figured one of these days I should drop in on the State Bar and see what my dues were used for, like, did they have mahogany paneling or something kind of modern like brushed steel going on, and get myself a nice Rob Roy maybe, but it turns out I was waaaaaaay off.)

So I was kind of worried that the State Bar, which I don't know why they call themselves that if they don't have a liquor license--let me just say, and I realize I am getting off the subject, here: I once had a... friend... who got into trouble because of the name of his business, which he called a "University" because it was like a college in that you would send him money and go someplace with a big room where some guy you never heard of would stand up in front of you and everyone else and tell you things you'd never actually be able to use in the real world.  So, technically true, except the state he was in had this rule that said you couldn't call yourself a "university" without going through this government scam they had going where you had to have "accreditation" which you "earned" by meeting "criteria" and "standards."  Who knew?  And so my... friend... got into a lot of trouble which he could have totally beaten in court if he hadn't decided to be a mensch about it and give some of the "students" some of their money back.  Whatever.  They learned a lesson.  Don't give your money to some guy you don't know you saw on TV.  That's a useful lesson right there.  Point being, and there is a point here: I don't see why the State Bar gets to flout these rules.  If you're going to call yourself a bar, you ought to at least serve beer, maybe have a TV with football on it.


So, the other thing I found out when these Federal agents were taking my computer and my phones and all this other stuff out of my office was that attorney-client privilege isn't what I thought it was.  This is probably the main part of the letter for you and me, Johnny Baby.  See, I thought that attorney-client privilege was that I'm an attorney, so anything I say is privileged, meaning if you ask me, I can say, "Fuck you," or I can put it on Twitter.  My privilege, right?

Well, that's wrong.

No shit!  Seriously!

See, turns out, what it means is that somebody who hired me to be their lawyer is entitled to confidentiality in communications that are within the scope of that representation, subject to certain exceptions like communications about prospective crimes and/or fraudulent acts.  So, like, if you come to me and say you murdered a no-good, deceitful, gold-digging, opportunistic porno actress who wouldn't keep her damn mouth shut (and who could blame you, am I right?), and you want me to talk about how you should turn yourself in to the police, or should you talk to the D.A., or how might you defend yourself in court against this if you're indicted, well all of that is just between you and me.  But if you come to me and say you murdered a, you know, all that stuff I just said, and you need help burying the body and disposing of the hotel fireaxe, well, much to my surprise and chagrin, I'm supposed to discourage you and tell you not to do that and I can't help you.  And if you come and tell me you're gonna murder someone like a you-know, all the stuff I just said, I may even be obligated to report this to the authorities, though this gets into all kinds of wormy territory with legal "ethics," which turns out to be an actual thing and not something we joke about sitting in a real Rob Roy-serving bar with pool tables and sports television and stuff.  (Again, embarrassingly, mea culpa.  I tell you, who knew?)

And if I do the "wrong" thing, even though you're rich and a pal and you trust me and we've been through a lot together and I'd even leverage my goddamn home and/or taxi company for you, you, I just love you and I swear to God I am loyal, I am your man, not like some pussy hick Senator who won't man up and end a goddamn witch hunt, not like some lying self-glorified cop who is so untrustworthy and treasonous he goes home right after a meeting with you and writes it all down for a "memoir" like a snitch, like a goddamned tattle-tale--if I do the wrong thing, do you know that my communications with you might not actually be confidential?  Really!  It's something else!  Apparently, I am not supposed to commit "crimes" even though everybody knows that's what lawyers do!  If we're not supposed to be crooks, how come we're always depicted as sleazebags on television?

No, turns out my communications with you in "furtherance" of an "ongoing criminal enterprise" may not, in fact, actually be confidential.  Even though I paid my fucking bar dues which turn out to really be so I can have people judge me for my human frailties AND NOT SO I CAN GO IN AND HAVE A FUCKING ROB ROY WHICH I REALLY NEED RIGHT NOW, OR FUCK IT, JUST THE SCOTCH.

And if you're not my client, then the privilege may not apply in the first place.  Even though I am still a lawyer.  I guess that's why they don't call it attorney-really good rich buddy who I would die for privilege.

Who knew?  Other people, apparently, but I somehow missed this.  More fool me.

So, upshot of all of this: please stop writing.  As useful as it would be for me to have a source of fundage I could point to and say it did not actually come from my friend/master, as useful as it would be to say, "Nope, this didn't come from campaign contributions, it came straight from the IMF and I didn't even misrepresent anything to my bank when I transferred the funds," I am afraid the heat, to quote the late Glenn Frey, is on.  And so I need you to stop sending me e-mails.  Just stop.

It's not that I can't use the cash, it's just that my life is really complicated at the moment.

(If you want to send a case of Scotch, that's fine.  Probably.  Actually, I should maybe look that up.  So much I just didn't know.  So much.  So, so much.)

- Name Withheld.


The letter I just sent Senator Richard Burr through his official website

>> Thursday, February 15, 2018

Dear Senator,

In the aftermath of the most recent of the 18 school shootings in America this year, and the deaths of 17 children in Florida at the hands of an armed teenager (19 years old, it's true; the NEW YORK TIMES keeps describing him as a "man," but he wasn't old enough to buy beer), a number of people have been publishing a sizeable figure claimed to be the amount of money you receive from the National Rifle Association alongside a statement you made last October after the Las Vegas mass shooting.  In that brief statement, you said, "This morning’s tragic violence has absolutely no place here in America."

I must respectfully take issue with this statement.  It is extremely clear that in a country in which mass shootings are a weekly event and our elected leaders can do no more than offer their thoughts and prayers, that tragic violence has become our way of life.  Such tragic violence does not have a place in democratic nations whose elected leaders have held hearings and passed effective legislation to limit accessibility to powerful weapons with relatively high rates of fire.  But it has a home here, in the United States.  I notice that as of my writing this e-mail to you, you have not elected to make a similarly erroneous comment in response to the shooting yesterday; perhaps you have come to agree, as so many of us have, that the lives of American citizens are the price to be paid for easy access to weapons that are overpowered for self-defense and hunting and yet would be of little use in a well-regulated militia, an easy access obviously demanded by the Second Amendment although nobody seemed to have a problem with, say for instance, passing Federal gun control legislation (the Gun Control Act of 1968, specifically) following the assassinations of Senator Kennedy and Dr. King in 1968.

I realize that gun control is a contentious matter, and legislation regulating firearms purchases has become a challenge since the Supreme Court's HELLER decision.  It's probably too much to face, and of course it's probably nice to be able to rely on endorsements and donations from those who apparently believe the Constitution forbids any regulation of arms.  Maybe it's for the best you shy away from the issue.  Easier, anyway.  One doesn't take on the office of United States Senator to take on difficult issues, after all.

The truth is, I don't really expect you to do anything you haven't already.  I just wanted to let you know you were wrong about mass murder not having its place in America.  We've had eighteen school shootings in seven weeks this year.  I don't think our children play baseball in school that often, so I guess we can say gun violence in schools is more American than baseball, right?  That's great, isn't it.

On an unrelated subject, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for your measured approach to matters before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and wish you luck with your investigation into probable Russian interference with our democratic processes.  The sanctity and stability of our democratic institutions is not a partisan matter.  Thank you for your service on the committee.

- R. Eric VanNewkirk
(Comments have been disabled on this post.)


Worst person on Earth gives terrible speech, news at eleven

>> Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Who cares about how much of it was true?  The worst parts weren't the lies and half-truths, the most embarrassing things weren't the gaffes, the most horrifying things weren't the miscellaneous encroachments on the rule of law, the most awful moments weren't when he trotted out crime victims and veterans as props (to be fair a stock part of these events since, what, the Reagan years?).

No, the worst thing about the speech wasn't the terrible, unqualified, awful man saying things he had no business saying.  The worst thing was watching the Republican half of the chamber give standing ovation after standing ovation until they were so overwhelmed with raw animal feeling that men and women who were elected to sit in the chairs of statesmen in the most hallowed civic chamber of these United States, a gallery once walked by the likes of Thaddeus Stevens and Daniel Webster, began to chant, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" like a lot of uncouth hooligans at an international hockey meet.

And you knew, as if you'd really had any doubt before (because of course you hadn't, not really), that the Republic is well and truly fucked because the only people in the United States of America who could step on the Charlatan-In-Chief and send him back to his sordid world of real estate scams, international money-laundering, and celebrity fraud have no ability to follow whatever conscience they still have, as Rep. Hamilton Fish IV (a Republican and former Nixon supporter) did when he voted with the House Judiciary Committee to recommend Articles of Impeachment to the House, or to change their minds with evidence, as Rep. Charles E. Wiggins (one of Nixon's most prominent defenders) did when he demanded Nixon's resignation after the release of the "Smoking Gun" tape.

Let's not kid ourselves about the coming midterms.  First, that while there is good cause for optimism, these House districts are so gerrymandered that taking back the House is going to be a terrible task and if we succeed, all we're likely to have is a marginal majority.  Second, because removal of the President for good cause ought to be a nonpartisan issue, and politically it should be a bipartisan issue; and these terrible people who stood and applauded a terrible speech by an awful person seem so unlikely to do the right thing at the expense of their tribal affiliations.  Third, because even if the House manages to pass Articles of Impeachment, the case is then taken up in the Senate and now we have to go back through steps #1 and #2 all over again, only in another venue.

It is hard to feel hopeful this morning.  Captain Bligh may be cruising for a mutiny, but where is Fletcher Christian, eh?  The crew is, in fact, mad on blood and rum and convinced the Captain may be a bad captain but he's nevertheless the best captain.  They have decided to die by his side, if needs be.  And let us be clear that they are worse than he is, because where he is stupid, they are cynical; where he is ignorant, they are Machiavellian.  I do not mean to suggest they are that much smarter than he is, actually; only that they at least ought to know better.  He was born a crook and stood little chance of making much more of himself than what his father made of him; they chose to be crooks and have decided they like it.


Bouncing tire

>> Thursday, November 30, 2017

The question is whether this cure is worse than the disease. For all the dangers Trump poses, his removal poses dangers too. In August, the New Yorker posted a viral piece questioning whether America was barreling toward a new civil war. In it, Yale historian David Blight warned, “We know we are at risk of civil war, or something like it, when an election, an enactment, an event, an action by government or people in high places, becomes utterly unacceptable to a party, a large group, a significant constituency.” Invoking the 25th Amendment seems, to me, like the precise sort of event Blight describes. The bitter political polarization that marks Trump’s America would look gentle compared to America if Trump were removed from office.

But this analysis leaves us in a place that seems absurd when stated clearly: Though we have mechanisms for removing a dangerous president, those mechanisms are too politically explosive to actually invoke. President Trump could order a nuclear holocaust before breakfast, but unless society can agree that he is either criminal or comatose, both America and the world are stuck with him and all the damage he can cause.

Can this really be our system?
Vox, November 30th, 2017.

The rhetorical question has a simple, awful answer: yes.  Yes, that is exactly our system.

Look, the Constitution of the United States has been failing in bits and pieces since practically its inception.  It failed to produce an effective national defense after we provoked a war with Britain in 1812.  It failed to hold the nation together in 1861.  From ratification to the Civil War, it allowed the United States to expand without addressing any of the issues raised by that expansion, especially the slave question but not exclusively.  As technology made the world smaller and the flow of events faster, and as the United States emerged as a world power following the Spanish-American War, the ways in which the founding document tried to split military and diplomatic powers between the Senate and Executive became increasingly obsolete and cumbersome, leading to the Senate effectively (and often formally) ceding its share of responsibilities to the Presidency without being able to preserve much in the way of effective supervision or accountability; meanwhile the complexity of the bookkeeping and regulation required to keep a great power on its feet and in forward motion resulted in the House of Representatives making its own concessions to the Presidency.  And all the while, the factionalism of the Founding generation quickly led to a series of Party-based political systems (something Klein does talk about effectively and at some length), so that the region-based checks and balances the Founders assumed would stabilize the system turned into our current regime wherein the political process is defined and controlled by two public corporations whose agendas are set by a mix of ideology, varying levels of corruption, and an existential impulse to define themselves simply by being the opposite of what they think the other party is.

And now we have an existential threat in the form of a President who is unfit for his office by any objective measure other than the fact he won enough Electoral College votes to be sworn in.  He is not a statesman.  He is not a leader.  He is not wise.  He is not politically savvy.  He does not have a moral vision.  He is, remarkably and ironically enough, not even especially political.  He is motivated, as best anyone can tell, entirely by vanity, childish impulse, greed, lust, racism, and an unusually petulant vindictiveness.  To the extent he's followed any kind of political portfolio not handed to him by various handlers, that agenda apparently consists simply of trying to reverse the actions of his predecessor in the White House because he's gotten it into his head that his predecessor was some kind of illegal foreigner who somehow conned his way into the country and into office, and then his predecessor responded not by producing proof of his legitimacy, but by being mean to him and publicly humiliating him at a press correspondents' dinner.

How unfit is Donald Trump for office?  He's so unfit for his office, that even when he tries to do something that might be within the scope of the overbroad powers we have ceded to the modern imperial presidency, he nevertheless manages to completely fuck it up.  The presidential power to set immigration policy, for example, which any other President could do by simply drafting a memo and yet the Occupant-In-Chief is so hapless and has surrounded himself with such ineptitude that his efforts to do what he can clearly do re: immigration policy have ended up being blocked repeatedly by courts that are generally sympathetic to exercises of executive power and privilege.

One thought that George W. Bush had unfortunately surrounded himself with hacks like Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo; Trump has managed to somehow discover that particular barrel had a false bottom and there was another one to be scraped underneath.  And lo, the wretched bastard even went and scraped it where most men making his discovery would have backed away slowly and looked for something with which to apply purifying fire to the barrel.

And yet the terms and conditions of our system of government are such that merely being horrifyingly, incomprehensibly bad at his job are not, as Klein might like, grounds for removal.  The Constitution says he can be removed upon conviction in the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors, and it says (as a recently applied afterthought) that there's a procedure for having him declared unable to perform his job (something that appears on its face to be different from merely being terrible at it).  

The remedy for simply being incompetent is to be voted out of office.  And, it should be noted (and Klein notes it) that in the present situation, Trump is the same incompetent he was before the election.  While the majority of voters in the country presumably took this into account when they voted against him, the system we have (where distribution of votes is what matters, because the Founders created a system in which Presidents were chosen by the states, which the states then turned over to the popular mobs), the voters who lived where it mattered nevertheless decided that having a racist, misogynistic, financially irresponsible, dishonest, amoral, beholden-to-foreign-powers, ignorant, loudmouthed yutz was preferable to a woman / a Democrat / Hillary Clinton / a woman Democrat who was Hillary Clinton.  Not knowing what the nuclear triad is isn't as important as securing that ninth Supreme Court seat; bragging about sexual assault is of less significance than having a signature for corporate tax cuts.  He was a lout, a bully, an ignoramus, a conspiracy theorist, a bigot, a vulgar prick, a joke, the punchline to that very same joke, a public disgrace, a conman, a lousy investment, a lousy investor, a disaster when they voted for him.  

The biggest difference between the man who asked the Russians to continue to perform acts of computer sabotage against American interests and the man who bragged to the Russians about American intelligence receipts in a way that jeopardized our reciprocity arrangements with Israel and possibly outed and jeopardized the life of an Israeli intel source is, perversely, that while both men display a contempt for American security, it's only the first man who possibly committed a quasi-criminal act.  I.e. it's the same asshole, but now he has the latitude and immunity that the Executive is granted by the Constitution and custom.

So, yes, he can tell the American military to launch nukes against whichever Korea we're against, or maybe both of them just to be sure we get them all, and there's nearly nothing that can be done about it because this is how we've done up our 1787 suicide pact when we were cute and innocent and more concerned about trade between Virginia and Massachusetts than we were with multilateral trans-Pacific partnerships.  (Something which, oh by the way, under the new management, it turns out we aren't that interested in anymore because the fucking moron is abdicating American international responsibilities and leadership in a way this country hasn't seen since the Spanish-American War marked our great coming out--goddamn, goddamn, goddammit.)  We are obligated to wait for him to be demonstrably incapacitated (not just dumb) or demonstrably guilty of malfeasance (not just incompetent) because that's what our rules tell us to do.  And it's quite nice and charming for Ezra Klein to suggest we set aside what the words say and are taken to mean in order to do what's necessary, but to do so is hardly constitutional.  And what I'd submit to you (not, I think, for the first time), is that the flaw isn't within our reluctance to invent a bold new interpretation of the words in which they no longer mean what they appear to mean, but rather in the words themselves.

Which, you know, effectively means we're fucked.  I mean, we might as well come right out and say it: we need a new Constitution, a new document, new rules, a new government, a new order.  But to get there we'd need women and men who would be competent for such a grand task, not the bootlickers and cumjobbers and hacks who burden and plague our politics.

The rational constitutional convention wouldn't be a lot of Republicans and Democrats arguing about Jesus and guns and how much corporate financing is too much.  We'd look to the most important elements of American culture--artistic, military, scientific, historical, technological, economic, political, whatever--and we'd pick out the most highly regarded minds in those fields, and we might throw in some wild cards to make sure we had a diverse mix of ideology, ethnicity, gender, and creed; and we'd have them look at what was working and not working in other democratic systems and work from there.  Which is exactly the kind of convention we wouldn't end up with; what we'd end up with is the Republicans would pick x delegates and the Democrats would pick x delegates, and they'd grandstand and preen a bit and we'd end up with much of what we already have except it would turn out upon close inspection to be sponsored by Verizon and funded by the Kochs.

Ezra Klein ponders future historians wondering what was wrong with us.  As if it will be that hard to answer.  What was wrong with us was that we got ourselves deeply embedded in a broken system that was carried tumbling along into a ditch by inertia until it got wobbly enough to fall over and everyone died.  The loose tire came off the broken axle and it went on down the road and there wasn't a good way to get off of it because there just wasn't.  They won't actually wonder what was wrong with us, assuming they exist and we don't end the planet (because that's certainly not completely out of the question, what with the nukes and the global warming and the poisons and the plagues and what-all); they will diagram the forces that tore the vehicle apart, like FAA investigators or historians of the Roman Empire.  They will identify a hundred causes and also just one: a dozen systems and subsystems systematically failed, also wasn't tightened and man it just fell out you know, damn.  Obviously I don't have a lot of hope.  I don't know think we can fix this.  I don't know if this can be reset.


We are fortunate

>> Monday, October 02, 2017

I am waiting to know more, if more can be known, about a man and his guns before I say anything, if there is anything to be said, about a man and his guns.

But let it be said as a matter of first impression that we are a fortunate people, to have a Supreme Court that has found in our Constitution a sacred right to not be inconvenienced by the need to work a bolt-action, nor by being overmuch delayed in reloading a weapon, nor by any obstacles to possessing large quantities of ammunition.  Thank goodness for that.  It would be a terrible thing for a man and his guns to have to slow down or suffer any delay in his sacred rate-of-fire.  Thank goodness it is not difficult to obtain and possess a firearm in the United States of America.

If anything, let us bemoan the fact that not enough good people carry firearms of their own, with which they might have peppered the facade of a forty-three story building if someone who was not classed with the good people took a room on the thirty-second floor and took advantage of the fine view overlooking a public venue.  Let us think of how much good could have been done if only guns were even easier to acquire and possess in these United States of America.

It is good to be an American today.  We are fortunate.  I ask my fellow Americans to remember this and reflect upon it.  Such good fortune we have.  And I ask the rest of the world to take no pity upon us nor hold us in their prayers: we Americans proudly live in the country we have made, you see, and we get what we deserve.


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