Category Archives: Politics

Friendly Fire

 

The question which has occupied Americans for the last four years, and especially since November 3, 2020, has been, “Is the United States a nation of laws or a cult of personality?”  When we use the term “of laws,” most people immediately think of the Constitution and federal, state or local statutes.  But the rule of law is subject to interpretation and context, otherwise there would be no need for Article III of the Constitution, courts or lawyers.

Even the Ten Commandments are not absolute.  For example, remember when then-candidate Jimmy Carter confessed in the November 1976 issue of Playboy magazine, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”  Was he struck down by a bolt of lightning?  No.  But he was sentenced to a four-year term in a federal facility.

There are only two absolute laws to which we are all subject.  Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  And the law of unintended consequences, “Any action has results that are not part of the actor’s purpose.”  Both have been on full display.  There used to be a third, Mile’s Law, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  As hard as Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Kevin McCarthy tried to affirm this adage; Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and nine other Republican members of the House of Representatives challenged its universal application.

Let’s start with Murphy’s Law.  How can we forget Dave Chappelle’s opening monologue on Saturday Night Live the weekend after the 2016 election.  Despite Trump’s victory, Chappelle reminisced about a recent White House occasion during which the Obamas celebrated black art and culture.

 I looked at that room, and I looked out at all those black faces, and I saw how happy everybody was. These people, who had been historically disenfranchised.

…it made me feel hopeful. And it made me feel proud to be an American, and it made me very happy about the prospects of our country.

In that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. and I’m going to give him a chance. And we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too.

Like so many people who voted for Trump the first time, Chappelle believed the next four years could not be as horrific as Hillary Clinton warned us.  Give him a chance.  He cannot be THAT bad. And Chappelle was right.  He was not as bad as Clinton made him out to be.  He was worse.  Murphy’s Law confirmed again.

Read Liz Cheney's full statement in support of Trump's impeachment - POLITICOWhich brings me to the law of unintended consequences.  To understand what Donald Trump intended, one need only read the following excerpt from Liz Cheney’s remarks during the House impeachment hearing.

On January 6, 2021 a violent mob attacked the United States Capitol to obstruct the process of our democracy and stop the counting of presidential electoral votes.

That is correct.  The intended purpose of the mob Donald Trump “summoned” and “assembled” (again Cheney’s words) was to intimidate Democrats and the minority of Republicans who refused to cater to lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.  But that is not what happened.  None were intimidated.  Why?  Because the mob was asking for something that had no basis in law as had been explained over and over again except on Fox News, NewsMax, OANN and alt-right social media.

They intended to halt the mandate in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, “The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. ”  Although this imperative has been clarified by amendment and statutes over time, the ceremonial nature of this rite has not been challenged with one exception, an instance where two or more slates of electors had been certified by a state’s legislature.  For those who have not been paying attention, this was not the case in the 50 states or District of Columbia in 2020.

The intended targets of the insurrection did not flinch from fulfilling the oath of office they had taken for the first time or re-affirmed just three days earlier.  But it did find a new mark, the 121 representatives and eight senators who voted to overturn the popular votes in Arizona, Pennsylvania or both.

After hearing those at the gate demand Mike Pence be hanged, they capitulated to the domestic terrorists.  They feared for their lives.  Some have since confessed they were more concerned (and still are) about the personal safety of themselves and their families than for the future of their Republic.  Do not tell me terrorism failed on January 6th.  It scared the crap out of 129 duly elected cowards whose commander-in-chief summoned and assembled a volunteer army of faux patriots.  As it turned out, the mob did not keep Democrats and rogue Republicans FROM crossing a line at the door of the House chamber.  They are keeping Cruz, Hawley, McCarthy, et. al. IN line.

Fortunately, Mike Pence and others escaped unharmed.  That is not however true of everyone in the Senate and House chambers that day.   There was a hanging.  From the gallows of history and public opinion hang the souls and reputations of the 129 individuals who refused to speak truth to power or to their constituents.  And their physical presence is suspended in a state of purgatory where they have an unpleasant choice.  Either hold on to the “big lie” and their cultist devotion to Trump or repent and face the “friendly fire” from that very mob they emboldened that has now turned on anyone who abandons their “lost cause.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

To Try or Not to Try

 

That is the question.

Some people look at a post-January 20th impeachment trial and possible conviction of Donald Trump for “incitement of an insurrection” as the equivalent of a posthumously awarded Oscar for best performance by a deranged, unhinged narcissist.  Nothing will change except the first sentence in the recipient’s eventual obituary.

Others see it as a necessary affirmation of the 244 year-old foundation of American democracy.  No person is above the law and must be held accountable for violations thereof.

The Health 202: Why Republicans won't go nuclear even for Obamacare repeal - The Washington PostAnd finally, there are those who need more time to think about it.  Among them is Senate Majority Leader (for the next six days, two hours, 10 minutes and 28 seconds, but who’s counting) Mitch McConnell.  Whether he decides to cast his vote for or against conviction, there is little doubt he thinks it is a good idea.   Why?

a) Because Trump is a clear and present danger to the security of the United States?
b) Because he believes Trump violated his oath of office.
c) Because we need to send a signal to any future president, regardless of political affiliation, such behavior is NEVER acceptable.
d) None of the above.

The correct answer is “D”.  According to reporting by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman in the January 12th edition of the New York Times:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has told associates that he believes president Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party, according to people familiar with his thinking.

That’s right.  It would make Mitch’s life easier.  To quote a 1964 song by the Chad Mitchell Trio titled “Barry’s Boys,” you can hear Mitch echoing the following epithet first used in reference to Republican party officials  to explain their support for presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.

“I’m an American first and a politician second.”
Spoken like a true American politician.

This may be the best argument yet to look for alternate ways to punish Trump.  I, for one, can think of no better comeuppance for Mitch and the GOP than to leave Donald Trump on the field of play.  Otherwise, as USA Today columnist Christian Schneider writes, ” Trump is a tumor that needs to be cut from the GOP without any delay. And Pelosi is mercifully handing Republicans a scalpel.”  Or, if you believe the GOP has abdicated its position as the sane, thoughtful voice for conservatives, heed the words of the New York Times’ Tom Friedman.

 While I want Trump out — and I don’t mind his being silenced at such a tense time — I’m not sure I want him permanently off Twitter and Facebook. There’s important work that I need Trump to perform in his post-presidency, and I need him to have proper megaphones to do it. It’s to blow apart THIS Republican Party.

Maybe that happens whether Trump is convicted or not.  But I, for one, wonder whether Democrats should hand Mitch a “gift” as Christian Schneider calls impeachment.  To paraphrase an old adage, “Charity begins at home; accountability begins in the Republican Senate caucus.”

POSTSCRIPT:  A DIFFERENT SHADE OF RED

The McRINO (my congressional representative in name only) who occupies the Florida District #4 seat in Congress is one of the 129 congressmen and senators who make up the Sedition Caucus that, on January 6th, objected to counting the electoral votes in six states won by Joe Biden.  Since then, I have received several emails from our local band of “good troublemakers” asking what we should be doing to rid ourselves of this aider and abettor of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol.  Most have suggested we need to find “a really good Democratic candidate to challenge him.”

In theory, that makes sense.  But we had good candidates in 2018 (the year of the “blue tsunami”) and in 2020.  In 2018, 32.4 percent of those casting ballots voted for Gus Selmont. This year Donna Deegan received 27.83 percent of the vote.  That is what happens when voter registration in a gerrymandered district is 3:1 in favor of the GOP.

We in NE Florida are not alone.  Many of the districts and states which sent the 129 truth deniers to Congress are solid red.  Any expectation of a Democratic victory in these non-competitive races is a pipe-dream.  Therefore, ridding Congress of seditious Trump psychophants may require a less desirable but necessary strategy.

Florida is a closed primary state. What if, for the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections, we all switched party affiliation so we could encourage and vote for a more rational, less extreme challenger in the Republican primary?  Of course, nothing precludes us from then voting Democratic in the general election.  There is one additional benefit.  We would now have something in common with Republicans and independents who voted for the challenger.  We all agree the incumbent does not deserve to be re-elected.  If the incumbent survives the primary challenge, we can then say, “We tried our best to help you in the primary; please join us in November to achieve the same goal.”

If we are destined to be represented by a member of the GOP, should we not do everything we can to support one who is a cooler shade of red than an incumbent who can only be described as “flaming scarlet?”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The GOP’s Dress Rehearsal

 

As former Navy intelligence officer Malcolm Nance continuously reminds us, “Coincidence takes a lot a planning.”  And when that coincidence involves a security threat to the United States, foreign or domestic, planning often includes a dress rehearsal, i.e. a run-through which helps the perpetrators determine what it will take to succeed.

On the international front, the best example was the February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.  Al Qaeda’s mission that day was simple.  Was a van filled with high-powered explosives sufficient to bring down one of the twin towers?    The resulting negative answer triggered a more complex, eight-year effort to achieve an even greater goal, destroying symbols of America’s financial, military and political dominance.

In much the same way, the run up to the 2003 Iraq invasion was the dress rehearsal for the all-out GOP assault on democracy that will play out tomorrow in the nation’s capital.  Justification for the U.S. invasion was built in part on Republican manipulation of the news about the immediate threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destructions (WMD).    The most obvious example was Vice President Dick Cheney’s March 16, 2003 appearance on Meet the Press during which he pointed to reports by New York Times correspondent Judith Miller the Iraqis were importing materials for the purpose of constructing nuclear weapons.

There was just one problem.  Miller’s report was not based on eyewitness accounts, but on information leaked by White House foreign policy staffers including Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith,  and Scooter Libby.  In other words, Cheney claimed the New York Times had validated everything the White House was saying when the paper merely echoed what administration officials fed to the Times.  A classic case of “don’t take our word for it; we are only acting on what the Times, you know the paper of record, is reporting.”

60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon, explained this pubic relations equivalent of an Escher print as follows:

You leak a story to the New York Times and the New York Times prints it, and then you go on the Sunday shows quoting the New York Times and corroborating your own information. You’ve got to hand it to them. That takes, as we say here in New York, chutzpah.

The result?  Destabilization of a volatile geopolitical region, loss of 5,000 members of the American armed forces and the death of over 200,000 Iraqi civilians.

So why do I think the above story represents a dress rehearsal for tomorrow’s GOP challenge of the 2020 presidential election.  Because Donald Trump and the psychophants (great name for a heavy metal band) are once again dancing the Cheney/Miller tango.  Take Texas Senator Ted Cruz’ appearance on Sunday morning with Maria Bartiroma.  His explanation of why he and others HAVE to challenge the certified state electoral college results was:

We went into this election with the country deeply divided, deeply polarized, and we’ve seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, and that’s produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that. We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the democratic system.

And who is among those most responsible for these “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud?”  You guessed it, Maria Bartiroma and her colleagues such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro.  The same circus act was featured on several other Fox News, NewsMax and OANN programs over the weekend.  And each time, the Trump surrogates justified their actions to interviewers who have been at the forefront of spreading lies and conspiracy theories which have been discredited by election officials, legislators and judges with ties to both political parties.  Escher would need a canvas the size of the Western Wall in Jerusalem to capture this endless loop of deceit.

But here is the tell.  Having been awake for at least some sessions of his Harvard law class on ethics, Cruz gave himself an out.  He did not say there was “unprecedented voter fraud” which he knows is untrue.  Instead he centered on the “allegations of fraud,” knowing he has hours and hours of video showing Republican members of Congress and “conservative” media personalities making such allegations.  Hopefully he will include footage of himself.

One can only imagine what the next GOP epic production may be for which the past two months have only been a dress rehearsal.  Does anyone honestly believe they will stop this assault on democracy just because it did not work this time?

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

I Am Still No Fan

 

This one will be short and sweet. I promise.

Yes, I am glad Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rejected Donald Trump’s effort to illegally overturn the certified vote count during the November election.  But he is no saint nor model citizen nor a profile in courage. Two data points.

First, Raffensperger said he had no intention of releasing the tape UNTIL Trump tweeted lies about him.  A moral individual, the minute he hung up the phone, would have called the Georgia attorney general and told him the president violated state election law and Trump threatened him if he did not break the law in support of the GOP lies and conspiracy theories.

Second, this morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos asked Raffensperger, having had this experience, would he vote for Trump again.  The right answer is not, “No.”  It’s, “HELL NO!”  Instead, Raffensperger said he has always supported Republicans and “probably always will,” but that Trump isn’t on the 2024 ballot, “so we’ll just have to wait and see what would happen.”

So what is his motive for standing up to Trump?  Not a belief Trump is staging a bloodless coup, for which he is an ear witness, and needs to be stopped.  He acts only when he is concerned about his own criminal liability if he violates his oath of office.  He only speaks up when his well-being is at risk, physically or politically.  How does that make him any different than Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz or any other member of the dirty, seditious dozen?

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

UNhidden Figures

Many times, things that are easy to measure are unimportant, and things that are important are hard to measure.

~Michie Slaughter

MICHIE SLAUGHTER Obituary (1941 - 2014) - Kansas City StarThe above quote was made in reference to understanding the impact of charitable investments (i.e. grants, research and programs) by the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership for which Slaughter served as its first president.  I was reminded of this warning as I watched the on-going congressional deadlock over the size of COVID-19 stimulus checks.  My first epiphany was I had often paid attention to only half of what my colleague and friend was trying to tell us.  Being a trained empirical social scientist, my focus had been on data collection and analytical methodology.  But that was just one side of the equation.  Too often I assumed I already knew what was important.  But in this case I was not so sure.  In other words, one needs not only to establish the method by which something is measured, but the why.  Why would anyone want to expend time and effort measuring something in the first place?

As is so often the case, coming up with the right answer depends first on asking the right question.  In this case, the debate in Washington centered on the size of the checks, the current $600 per eligible recipient versus the proposed increase to $2,000 per recipient. In both the initial CARES Act last March and the recently passed COVID Relief Act, eligibility was defined as $75,000 of total adjusted income for a single individual and $150,000 for a married couple filing jointly for the 2019 tax year.  This information is easily obtained from Line 8b of the 2019 IRS Form 1040.

If this was the only available metric one could argue it makes sense.  Unless you ask another question.  Does this data point tell you who is most in need of supplemental income during the current economic recession?  To answer that question you need to examine the range of revenue streams which make up total adjusted income.

  • Line 1: Wages, salaries, tips, etc.
  • Line 2a: Tax-exempt interest
  • Line 3a: Qualified dividends
  • Line 4a: IRA Distributions
  • Line 4c: Pensions and annuities
  • Line 5a: Social security benefits
  • Line 6: Capital gain (or loss)
  • Line 7: Other income

Now, think about which of these subcategories are most likely to be affected by an economic slowdown.  The stock market has more than recovered from the March 2020 crash; so your qualified dividends and capital gains more likely rose in 2020.  Mandated 2021 IRA distributions should also increase as the value of an IRA account also grew this past year.  Social security payments are unaffected, increasing one percent for 2021.  And most pensions and annuities are likely to remain relatively stable.

This information already exists for every American taxpayer and is readily retrievable with a flick of a switch.  So, if the goal is to help the most vulnerable, we now have both the desired outcome and a trove of data.  The final task is to determine the weight of each data point to achieve that outcome.

This is not rocket science, but I find it hard to believe if mathematicians and analysts can program a reusable rocket to land on a platform at sea or instruct a space probe to retrieve dust from an asteroid traveling at  63,000/hour, there is not an algorithm that would match the mission of aiding those most in need of supplemental income.  Consider the following as one approach.

The $600 stimulus checks are history; so, let’s leave them out of the equation and focus on the currently proposed $1,400 per eligible recipient which is projected to cost $460 billion. Let’s call that the “relief pool”.  Using the established benchmarks for total adjusted income of $75k/individual filer and $150k/joint filers, approximately 153 million Americans would be entitled to a “share” of the “relief pool.”  However, not all shares would have the same value.  For example, someone whose entire total adjusted income came from wages or salary (Line 1 of their 2019 return) would receive a full share.  At the other extreme, the share of someone whose total revenues resulted from other than earned income (e.g. dividends, pensions, social security) would have no value as they are likely unaffected at all by the downturn.  For the record, our household falls into this second category, and we are fine with that.

The shares of all other filers would be equal to a percentage of income derived from all non-earned income sources (Lines 2a-6) divided by total adjusted income (Line 8b).  If the $460 billion appropriation is used, each non-zero shareholder would get a proportionate share of the pool with one exception.  No individual would be entitled to more than their total earned income in 2019.  For example, even if a full share was worth $5,000, an individual or joint filer with $3,000 in wages and salaries, would only be eligible for the latter amount.

Is the formula perfect?  Probably not.  The specifics should be subject to the usual policy debates.  The amount of the total “relief pool” can also be addressed.  What is not arguable is the fact the data to test this formula and alternatives is readily available.  All we need is the right people developing the corresponding algorithms.  Where are Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson (the original “hidden figures”) when we really need them?

POSTSCRIPT:  I cannot leave this discussion without commenting on Miser Mitch McConnell’s description of the $2,000 stimulus checks as “socialism for rich people.”  In the style of a Shakespeare sonnet, “How wrong can Mitch be; let me count the ways.”  There is no coordinated production, public or cooperative ownership of capital as Karl Marx described.  There is no redistribution of wealth based on the principle “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability.”  If anything, Mitch is the leading proponent of reverse socialism, cutting the social safety net while giving massive tax breaks to the rich.  This morning’s news featured a number of stories about food lines where volunteers were serving holiday meals.  I wonder how many of these aid recipients asked,  “Do I get tax-deductible martinis with this?”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP