Random Roundup, or We Did Pretty Well for 230 Years

Reader alert:

You can read what I’ve written below or look at Will Bunch’s column “America’s Democracy Doomsday Clock Just Hit 11:58” at Philly.com instead. I read his column after I was almost done writing this post. To borrow a phrase from a President who doesn’t seem so bad these days: “I could refer to Bunch’s column only after you read what I wrote – I could do that – but it would be wrong”.

Or you could read both, since they don’t overlap completely!

So to begin:

The U.S. Senate, which some observers used to seriously call the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”, is desperately trying to find 50 Republican votes to pass something, anything, to use as a vehicle to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. If that happens this week, members of the Senate and House will then get together and discuss how best to cut taxes for the wealthy and health insurance for the non-wealthy. If they can agree on something, both houses of Congress will vote again. You can see the latest developments at The Washington Post and ThinkProgress (the latter is a “latest news first” page).

For a summary of the current healthcare “state of play”, see Paul Waldman’s excellent column: “Trump and Republicans Treat Their Voters Like Morons”. The main point he makes: 

In other words, their current position is, “We know how catastrophic this bill would be. But we got here by lying to these knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers for years, and if we don’t follow through, they’ll punish us”.

… There’s one other path open to them, which is to pass “skinny repeal” [which would only repeal a few parts of the ACA], then go to a conference committee with the House, in which an entirely new bill would be written incorporating the other things Republicans want to do. That bill could then be presented to both houses as a last chance to repeal the hated Obamacare, in the hopes that members would vote for it despite its inevitable unpopularity and cataclysmic consequences for Americans’ health care.

If and when that happens, Republicans will make that same calculation again: This thing is terrible and most everyone hates it, but we have to pass something because we fooled our base into thinking this would all be simple and we could give them everything they want. Or as Trump said during the campaign, “You’re going to have such great healthcare at a tiny fraction of the cost, and it is going to be so easy.”

That was just one of the many lies they were told, and they ate it up. 

I believe their attempt to repeal/replace the ACA is doomed, but I’m not a member of Congress. By the way, we are still being encouraged to contact Republican legislators on this issue. That’s because most members of the House and Senate are toddlers with extremely short attention spans. They need constant reinforcement in order to behave properly.

On Monday, DT (if only his middle name had been “Dennis” or “Darren”) tried to turn the Boy Scout Jamboree into a Hitler, excuse me, Drumpf Youth rally. New York Magazine has the story, including their “14 most inappropriate moments”. Digby comments:

It makes me feel like crying. The celebration of rank stupidity, the crude brutality, the incessant bragging, the whining and the lying in front of a bunch of cheering and jeering boy scouts is almost physically painful to watch. 

That’s being imprinted on this next generation as leadership. 

Meanwhile, DT is trying to get the Attorney General, old-style racist Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (aka “the nation’s top law enforcement officer”) to resign because Sessions hasn’t lied and obstructed justice enough on DT’s behalf. In itself, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Back to Paul Waldman for a summary of the AG’s first six months in office:

Jeff Sessions is a uniquely odious figure, perhaps the most malevolent force within the Trump administration. His most visible actions as head of the Justice Department have included shutting down oversight of local police departments accused of misconduct; renewing an ’80s-style “war on drugs”; advocating for asset forfeiture programs that literally steal money and property from people who are not even accused of a crime, let alone convicted; promoting mandatory minimum sentencing that members of both parties have come to see as cruel, unjust, and counterproductive; and rolling back civil rights protections for transgender children. While some Trump appointees have been most notable for their incompetence, if he gets his way Sessions will have a profoundly malignant impact on the nation.

DT wants Sessions to fire the Special Counsel who’s investigating DT’s criminal activities. Ideally, if Sessions were to go (hooray!), Congress would keep the Special Counsel’s investigation on track, which would be easy for them to do. But again, I’m not a member of Congress. (Don’t worry: To quote a true American hero, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman: “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected”. And he really could have been president if he’d wanted the job.)

Finally, the author of The Washington Post‘s “Right Turn” blog (“Jennifer Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective”) has a good suggestion:

A large segment of Republican voters should try turning off Fox News and allowing reality to permeate the shell they’ve constructed to keep out ideas that interfere with their prejudices and abject ignorance. Unfair? Take a look at the latest poll to suggest that Trump voters like their cult hero feel compelled to label inconvenient facts “fake news.” Morning Consult reports: “A plurality of Republicans say President Donald Trump received more of the popular vote in 2016 than his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton….

The report continues: “Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, said … Tuesday that Trump has “perfected the technique of the Big Lie” — which, as he wrote in an op-ed last fall, is to “repeat a lie loudly, over and over until people come to believe it. These results show that again that like ‘Birtherism,’ which launched Trump’s political career, the Big Lie continues to work, at least among those who want to believe it’.”

If these voters do not know or cannot accept something as simple as vote totals, do we really expect they will be amenable to reason on immigration (sorry, but illegal immigrants aren’t causing a crime wave), global warning (sorry, it’s not a hoax) or uncontroverted evidence of Russian meddling in the election? I’m sure all this makes the Trump staff and surrogates laugh uproariously as they admire their handiwork in bamboozling the angry mob. But they and the network of right-wing enablers have done real damage to our society and politics, making differences impossible to bridge and reasoned debate nearly impossible….

Democracy presupposes a minimally informed, responsible adult electorate. Right now it is clear the GOP is dominated by fact-deniers and willfully ignorant folk…

But here’s the thing: The rest of the country should empathize with their economic plight and sense of alienation, but that does not mean we should coddle them in their ignorance nor defer to judgments based on fabrication. They feel “disrespected” when fellow Americans point to reality? Trumpkins think elites are condescending when they call them “low information” voters? (It should be non-information voters.) Sorry, economic hardship does not bestow moral authority to lie, invent facts, smear opponents, blame foreigners or support lawlessness. And for elected Republicans to defer to the ignorant, beguiled voters is an abdication of their role and oaths.

However many years it’s been, 230 or 240 or some other number depending on how you count, we had a pretty good run. (Oh, sure, it can all turn around if people get out and vote, but, oh brother, this is bad.)

Brian Wilson’s Elements

Brian Wilson probably never studied ancient Greek philosophy, but he knew that, once upon a time, smart people thought the world was composed of four fundamental elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire. (That’s the list Empedocles came up with in the 5th century BCE.) So when Brian was working on Smile, the famous Beach Boys’ album that didn’t get finished in 1967, he was going to include something called “The Elements”. One of his close friends, David Anderle, remembered it this way:

We were aware, he made us aware, of what fire was going to be, and what water was going to be; we had some idea of air. That was where it stopped. None of us had any ideas as to how it was going to tie together, except that it appeared to us to be an opera. And the story of the fire part I guess is pretty well known by now [Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile!, p. 230].

As the years went by, tapes from the Smile sessions, as well as completed tracks, showed up here and there. This led to many fans creating their own Smile albums, trying to figure out how Brian would have put the pieces together, or simply wanting an album’s worth of music to listen to.

I acquired several unofficial versions of Smile along the way, but didn’t get around to making my own Smile until 2002. That was 35 years after Brian stopped working on the original and two years before he released his finished version, Brian Wilson Presents Smile (which Metacritic determined to be the best-reviewed album of 2004).

A few days ago, a question from another fan got me to look for my homemade Smile CD. When I played it, I couldn’t remember why I’d picked these particular thirteen tracks or why I’d put them in the sequence I did. I couldn’t even remember where some of the tracks came from. Some were obviously from official Beach Boys albums, but others were from sources unknown.  

This brings me back to “The Elements”. The first track on my Smile is a nine-minute, almost all-instrumental with that title. It’s made up of five tracks from the Smile sessions. Two of them are the tracks everyone agrees were intended to represent Fire and Water. The other three are well-known to serious fans, but don’t clearly fit the Elements concept. I’ve reached out to the Brian Wilson/Beach Boys online community (of course, there is such a thing – it’s the Internet), but so far nobody has answered the question: Where did this version of “The Elements” come from?

If someone eventually answers that question, and I’m able to identify the source of a few more tracks, I might put my Smile CD playlist on YouTube. Meanwhile, here’s “The Elements” or “An Elements Suite” or “Selected Smile Instrumentals”, hot off the computer. 

I like it as the beginning to my Smile because it kind of lays the groundwork for the rest of the album. Plus, the first part, “Look”, could represent Air (that’s what we look through); the second part, “Holidays”, could represent Earth (that’s where we take vacations); and it’s clear what “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow (Fire)” and “I Love To Say Da Da (Water)” represent. It all ends with “I Wanna Be Around / Workshop”, which features the guys banging around in the studio, i.e. putting the musical elements of Smile together.

It’s Getting Worse, But A Few Republicans Could Make a Big Difference

The Washington Post reported last night that the President and his henchmen have been discussing his authority to grant pardons for members of his administration, his associates, his family members and even for himself, should any of them be at risk of criminal prosecution for a Federal crime. They are also discussing ways to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation into the President’s Russian connection. The President is especially concerned that Mueller is reportedly examining DT’s tangled finances.

In a bizarre interview with The New York Times, the President left open the possibility that he might fire the special counsel if Mueller’s investigation goes too far, even though Mueller is authorized to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”, as well as other matters that “may arise directly from the investigation” (remember how an investigation into an Arkansas land deal led to questions about sex in the Oval Office?). 

Two observers drew the same scary conclusion from these reports. Brian Beutler of The New Republic writes:

The loud hum of chaos and spectacle engulfing the Trump administration is drowning out a creeping reality: We are on the brink of an authoritarian crisis that will make the firing of FBI Director James Comey seem quaint in hindsight.

In a more rule-bound environment, Mueller’s interest in opening Trump’s books would probably be checkmate for the president. Quite apart from the question of whether his campaign conspired with Russian intelligence to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it is widely suspected that a peek under the hood of the Trump organization will reveal serious financial crimes. Assuming that informed speculation is correct, and assuming our system of checks hasn’t broken down, Mueller would uncover the wrongdoing and bring down a president, or Trump would fire Mueller and Congress would step in to edge Trump out.

But at the moment there are no reliable sources of accountability. None.

Republicans have given every indication over the course of the past several months that no malfeasance, no matter how naked and severe, will impel them to rein in Trump or impeach him….

Should Trump fire Mueller, with the tacit assent of Republicans in Congress and the [Department of Justice] leadership, there will be little recourse. It is feasible (though difficult) to imagine a [Republican] House and Senate passing an independent counsel statute to restore Mueller to his job; it is nearly impossible to imagine them doing so by veto-proof margins. And should Trump pardon himself and his inner circle, it is dispiritingly easy to imagine Republicans reprising their familiar refrain: The president’s power to pardon is beyond question.

If this crisis unfolds as depicted here, the country’s final hope for avoiding a terminal slide into authoritarianism would be the midterm election, contesting control of a historically gerrymandered House of Representatives. That election is 16 months away. Between now and then, Trump’s DOJ and his sham election-integrity commission will seek to disenfranchise as many Democratic voters as possible, while the president himself beseeches further foreign interference aimed at Democratic candidates. Absent the necessary sweep, everything Trump will have done to degrade our system for his own enrichment and protection will have been ratified, and a point of no return will have been crossed.

Prof. Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University writes for CNN that:

Just before Donald Trump took office, I argued that our new President would likely follow the “authoritarian playbook,” an approach toward governance that privileges executive power and makes the leader’s personal goals and needs the focus of his public office. Now, six months later, those predictions have come true….

warned that President Trump would escalate his attacks on the media, disregard political customs and democratic norms, and single out judges or other government employees who might challenge the legality or ethics of his actions.

He is on his way to accomplishing the most important things an authoritarian leader must do to survive over the long term. The strategies that he’s already used effectively will also guide his next phase of rule….

The most important item of the authoritarian’s playbook is this: He is in office not to serve the nation but to protect his own position of power, often enriching himself along the way….

Studies show that once political elites [such as Congressional Republicans] have concluded their deals with authoritarians and signed on publicly, they usually stick with those leaders to the bitter end.

The inauguration was six months ago today. Since then, the issue of creeping authoritarianism hasn’t been talked about much – there have been other, more immediate problems to worry about. In addition, seeing the President in action for six months has confirmed that he’s too stupid, ignorant and lazy to “seize power” in a truly authoritarian way. It seems more likely that the Trump administration will keep reversing progress and generating pain for the next 3 1/2 years, without achieving iron rule. 

But the failure of Congressional Republicans to hold the President accountable in any way is still shocking. There’s polling evidence that the Democrats could take back the House of Representatives in next year’s election, and maybe the Senate, but after reading these articles last night, I began to wonder if there could be a quicker solution. 

In fact, there is. If three Republican senators were to switch parties or declare themselves independents and vote with the Democrats, they could replace the odious Senator Turtle Face (aka Mitchell McConnell), who rules the Senate with a semi-iron hand, with a sensible Democrat. Likewise, although less likely, if 24 Republican members of the House (one-tenth of their total of 240) were to do the same, they could replace the dead-eyed granny-starver, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, with a Democratic colleague.

In fact, the Speaker of the House doesn’t even have to be a member of Congress. They could elect Joe Biden! Or The Rock! Or you! Or me! There’s no need to wait for another national election, since the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House can be replaced at any time by a simple majority vote in their respective houses of Congress.

Just to show I’m not completely off the wall, respected journalist James Fallows posted “Everything Now Hinges on Three Republicans in the Senate” this morning:

By midnight on July 20, 2017, it seemed increasingly likely that Donald Trump will fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Mueller embodies what is admirable in U.S. public service … Donald Trump embodies the reverse.

Yet for now Trump has the legal power, directly or indirectly, to dismiss Mueller, if the investigation gets too close to Trump’s obviously sensitive financial concerns. And Trump himself, unaware of history and oblivious to rules, norms, and constraints, has given every indication that this will be his next step.

What happens then? [Fallows then refers to Brian Beutler’s scary article above.]

There are 52 Americans who have it within their power to prove that dark assessment wrong. Really, it would take a subset of just three of those 52. With the 52-48 current party lineup in the U.S. Senate, a switch of three votes of conscience is all it would take to have this branch of government fulfill its checks-and-balances function.

With three votes, a Senate majority could issue subpoenas and compel sworn testimony from Administration officials. It could empower its own thorough investigation, even re-hiring Robert Mueller to lead it. It could compel Donald Trump to release the tax returns about which he is so evidently nervous. It could act as if America in fact possessed a system of rule-of-law, rather than whim-of-one-man.

[Fallows then lists several Republican senators who might do the right thing, since, for example, some of them won’t run for reelection again.]

It would take only three. Some—Grassley? Heller? McCain if he is able to vote?—might think: What do they have to lose? They might as well wind up with dignity. Others … are so far away from re-election that a lot will happen in the meantime. And all of them are senators, part of a body self-consciously proud of its independence, its individual judgment, its role in defending the long-term principles of governance.

A country of 300-plus million people, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, should not rely for its orderly stability on the decisions-of-conscience of just three people. But the United States may soon be in that situation. These names will go down in history, depending on the choices they make.  

The Way Consciousness Is

Thinking about the United States plumbing the depths of kakistocracy (rule by the worst) is all well and good, but back to consciousness.

The human brain is the most complex object anyone has ever tried to understand. It might be the most complex object in the universe. We might never understand how it works. Robert Burton, a neurologist, writes about being surprised by a patient with a paranoid fear of the FBI that was apparently caused by a mutation in his brain:

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had run headlong into the “hard problem of consciousness,” the enigma of how physical brain mechanisms create purely subjective mental states. In the subsequent 50 years, what was once fodder for neurologists’ late night speculations has mushroomed into the preeminent question in the philosophy of mind. As an intellectual challenge, there is no equal to wondering how subatomic particles, mindless cells, synapses, and neurotransmitters create the experience of red, the beauty of a sunset, the euphoria of lust, the transcendence of music, or in this case, intractable paranoia.

Neuroscientists have long known which general areas of the brain and their connections are necessary for the state of consciousness. By observing both the effects of localized and generalized brain insults such as anoxia [total lack of oxygen] and anesthesia, none of us seriously doubt that consciousness arises from discrete brain mechanisms. Because these mechanisms are consistent with general biological principles, it’s likely that, with further technical advances, we will uncover how the brain generates consciousness.

However, such knowledge doesn’t translate into an explanation for the what of consciousness—that state of awareness of one’s surroundings and self, the experience of one’s feelings and thoughts. Imagine a hypothetical where you could mix nine parts oxytocin, 17 parts serotonin, and 11 parts dopamine into a solution that would make 100 percent of people feel a sense of infatuation 100 percent of the time. Knowing the precise chemical trigger for the sensation of infatuation (the how) tells you little about the nature of the resulting feeling (the what).

But why should we expect that knowing what chemicals cause the feeling of infatuation would tell us anything about what infatuation feels like? Aren’t those two different questions?

Suppose, however, that we keep improving our techniques for studying the brain, as Burton suggests, and eventually figure out how certain kinds of brain activity become consciousness. It doesn’t seem impossible that one day (maybe 1,000 years in the future) that we will fully understand how “subatomic particles, mindless cells, synapses, and neurotransmitters” allow us to be conscious, just as well as we understand how lungs allow us to breathe (although lungs are a lot less complicated than brains). Suppose we discover how one kind of brain activity becomes a feeling of infatuation and another kind becomes a feeling of resentment. 

Burton implies that we would still be left with what he calls the “what” question, although it might be better to call it the “why” question. Why does our consciousness have the specific properties it does? Why does a note on a violin sound just the way it does? Why does red look like this and not like this or this? In the case of color, scientists might understand perfectly well the relationship between different wavelengths of light, the physiology of our eyes and nervous system, and the colors we see. They would understand that such and such conditions, structures and processes are correlated with seeing red and others are correlated with seeing blue. All of our “how does this happen?” questions would have been answered. So would it still make sense to ask why a particular kind of light looks the way it does or a particular feeling feels the way it does?

I’m not sure it would. Once we understood what leads to colors looking the way they do, or what makes feelings feel the way they do, any “why” questions might disappear. Once we understand the “how” of consciousness, maybe there won’t be anything more to figure out. If there are any neurologists or philosophers still asking “why”, the best answer will be “that’s just the way it is” or “stop asking questions and go to sleep”.

That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. After all, in science, we sometimes arrive at what appear to be “brute” facts. Why is the speed of light in a vacuum 186,282 miles per second instead of 186,300 miles per second? We may never know. That’s just the way the universe works. No further explanation is available. If you have a problem with our speed of light, go live in another universe. If you don’t like the particular colors you see, keep your eyes closed. Or become a cat.

Next up on this subject, assuming I stay conscious: What does it mean to say consciousness is a physical phenomenon? It’s obviously a mental phenomenon, so how can it be a physical one too?

No Smooth Sailing Ahead for the Bad Guys in Washington

There are lots of reasons why the Republicans haven’t passed any significant legislation this year (during what is supposed to be the new president’s “honeymoon” phase). The one I keep coming back to is DT’s ignorance and incompetence. He doesn’t understand the legislation he’s supposed to be in favor of, which is one reason he hasn’t been able to make any “deals”, even though making deals was supposed to be his great strength. All he can do is to say the kind of things presidents often say (“It’s the other side’s fault for not cooperating”) regardless of the situation at hand. He might as well be one of those dolls with a string out the back or a button to push, programmed to repeat random presidential phrases (“We’re working hard to help middle class families!”) and vacuous campaign promises (“Our healthcare bill is going to be wonderful!”).

But some of the things he says are so stupid, they bear repeating. The Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate vs. 48 for the Democrats. They needed 50 of those Republican senators to repeal the ACA, something they’ve been talking about doing for more than seven years. Today, DT “lamented the inability of Senate Republicans to pass their healthcare bill, but said that coming up short was still ‘pretty impressive'”:

“You had 52 people, you had 4 no’s,” [he] said during a meeting at the White House. “Now, we might have had another one, someone in there. But the vote would have been if you look at it, 48-4. That’s a pretty impressive vote by any standard.

So getting at most 48 Republicans to vote Yes, while 48 Democrats and at least four Republicans were going to vote No, was pretty impressive by any standard? How about the standard called “having enough votes to get something done”?

Now that the Republicans have failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (for the time being), journalist Paul Waldman points out that they have other problems to deal with:

One way to interpret this failure is that Republicans were undone by an ignorant, erratic, feckless president who couldn’t be bothered to help them pass the bill. There’s some truth in that story — President Trump’s indifference and buffoonery certainly didn’t do them any favors. But the real failure belongs to Republicans in Congress, both the leadership and the rank and file. And now, as they try to salvage their agenda in what will be an unusually challenging few months, they could be undone by the same weaknesses that rendered them unable to pass their health-care bill….

The debt ceiling: 

Before Barack Obama became president, the debt ceiling was little more than a periodic opportunity for some consequence-free posturing….Members of the opposition party would give a few speeches railing against the administration’s free-spending ways, then Congress would vote to raise the ceiling, with a few of the opposition members casting protest votes against the increase. No one even considered not raising the ceiling as a serious possibility, as that would be cataclysmic — if the United States were no longer paying its debts, it could set off a worldwide financial crisis.

That is, until the tea party came to town, with a “tear it all down” philosophy and a hatred of Obama that burned with the fire of a thousand suns. So we had debt ceiling crises in 2011 and 2013 in which there was a serious possibility that the [Republicans] would refuse to increase the ceiling and the government would go into default.

Which brings us today. The debt-ceiling increase must be passed by October, but the administration can’t even decide itself whether to have a “clean” vote without strings attached…. Congress may end up fighting with itself as well, as the leadership tries to just increase the debt ceiling and avoid a catastrophe while conservative members try to use that specter as a way to extract policy concessions. What should be easy, because Republicans have total control of government, becomes excruciatingly hard.

(A side note: The fact that we have a debt ceiling at all is insane. The only other democratic country that has one is Denmark, and they set theirs so high that it’s never a problem. We should just get rid of it entirely.)

The budget: 

Today the House Budget Committee released a blueprint of the House budget, and in many ways it’s analogous to what gave them such difficulty on health care: It includes savage cuts to domestic programs that are politically perilous and will cause reservations among House moderates and threaten the bill’s chances in the Senate, yet are nonetheless decried by House conservatives as not cruel enough, all justified using unrealistic predictions about the future….

There are big cuts to programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, and this bill would even move forward on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s fantasy of turning Medicare into a voucher program. In other words, it provides ample targets for Democrats to charge that it’s another attack on the safety net while it helps out Wall Street (there are provisions unwinding the Dodd-Frank law in there, too) and paves the way for a tax cut for the wealthy. Which brings us to …

Tax reform: 

Because of procedural rules, Republicans need to pass the budget in order to use reconciliation for tax reform, which would enable them to pass a tax bill with only 50 votes in the Senate. But even if they pass the budget, tax reform is going to be extraordinarily difficult, because it will pit various Republican constituencies against each other, all wanting to preserve the tax breaks and loopholes their lobbyists have so painstakingly written over the years. Many Republicans say that passing tax reform will be even more difficult than passing health-care reform was. While in the past tax reform has proven so complicated that it has taken years of work and negotiations to accomplish, the Keystone Kops of this Congress want to get it done in the next few months, and they’ve barely begun working on it….

That’s not to mention that alleged priorities such as infrastructure have just disappeared in the dust cloud kicked up by Republican pratfalls. This is all a reminder that even when a party controls both Congress and the White House, success in passing meaningful legislation is anything but guaranteed. It also serves to highlight what an extraordinary job {Democrats] did in the first two years of Obama’s first term, when they passed a set of hugely consequential bills including a stimulus package, Wall Street reform, health-care reform, the auto bailout, FDA oversight of tobacco, an expansion of CHIP and many other things that most of us have forgotten.

It turns out that legislating is hard — who knew! — and in order to be successful at it, you need a number of things: an understanding of the process, skill at wrangling your members, a relatively unified caucus in both houses, a president who can intervene successfully at key moments and the support of the public for the substance of what you’re trying to do. Republicans’ failure so far to pass any major legislation is a result of their lack of some or all of those requirements. And there’s little reason to think they’re going to have an easier time from this point on.

Yes, It’s Your Doom and Gloom Roundup, But Maybe With Light at the End of the Tunnel

Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Sufferings of the World” (1836):

In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theater before the curtain is raised, sitting there in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It is a blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen. 

You tell ’em, Art.

Craig Unger, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat”, The New Republic:

A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money…. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics….

By 2004, to the outside world, it appeared that Trump was back on top after his failures in Atlantic City. That January, flush with the appearance of success, Trump launched his newly burnished brand into another medium.

[The Apprentice] instantly revived his career. “The Apprentice turned Trump from a blowhard Richie Rich who had just gone through his most difficult decade into an unlikely symbol of straight talk, an evangelist for the American gospel of success, a decider who insisted on standards in a country that had somehow slipped into handing out trophies for just showing up,” … Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher observe in their book Trump Revealed. “Above all, Apprentice sold an image of the host-boss as supremely competent and confident, dispensing his authority and getting immediate results. The analogy to politics was palpable”….

Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.

I sometimes wonder how many of the millions of people who watched The Apprentice for years and years voted for this “poor person’s idea of a rich person” and whether DT’s shady business deals will ever catch up with him.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, “Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting sure sounds like a Russian intelligence operation”, The Washington Post:

….everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election….

Had this Russian overture been rejected or promptly reported by the Trump campaign to U.S. authorities, Russian intelligence would have been forced to recalculate the risk vs. gain of continuing its aggressive operation to influence U.S. domestic politics. Russian meddling might have been compromised in its early stages and stopped in its tracks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies before it reached fruition by the late fall.

So the suggestion that this was a nothing meeting without consequence is, in all likelihood, badly mistaken.

Paul Krugman, “Takers and Fakers”, The New York Times

… throughout the whole campaign against Obamacare, Republicans have been lying about their intentions.

Believe it or not, conservatives actually do have a more or less coherent vision of health care. It’s basically pure Ayn Rand: if you’re sick or poor, you’re on your own…. Specifically:

1. Health care, even the most essential care, is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t get insurance because you have a preexisting condition, because your income isn’t high enough, or both, too bad.

2. People who manage to get insurance through government aid, whether Medicaid, subsidies, or regulation and mandates that force healthy people to buy into a common risk pool, are “takers” exploiting the wealth creators, aka the rich.

3. Even for those who have insurance, it covers too much. Deductibles and co-pays should be much higher, to give people “skin in the game”…

4. All of this applies to seniors as well as younger people. Medicare as we know it should be abolished, replaced with a voucher system that can be used to help pay for private policies – and funding will be steadily cut below currently projected levels, pushing people into high-deductible, high-copay private policies.

This is … what conservative health care “experts” say when they aren’t running for public office, or closely connected to anyone who is. I think it’s a terrible doctrine … because buying health care isn’t and can’t be like buying furniture….

But think of how Republicans have actually run against Obamacare. They’ve lambasted the law for not covering everyone, even though their fundamental philosophy is NOT to cover everyone, or accept any responsibility for the uninsured. They’ve denied that their massive cuts to Medicaid are actually cuts, pretending to care about the people they not-so-privately consider moochers. They’ve denounced Obamacare policies for having excessively high deductibles, when higher deductibles are at the core of their ideas about cost control. And they’ve accused Obamacare of raiding Medicare, a program they’ve been trying to kill since 1995.

In other words, their whole political strategy has been based on lies – not shading the truth, not spinning, but pretending to want exactly the opposite of what they actually want.

And this strategy was wildly successful, right up to the moment when Republicans finally got a chance to put their money – or actually your money – where their mouths were. The trouble they’re having therefore has nothing to do with tactics, or for that matter with Trump. It’s what happens when many years of complete fraudulence come up against reality.

As Krugman writes elsewhere:

… everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows something about insurance markets is declaring the same thing: that the [Republican] bill would be a disaster. We’ve got the insurance industry declaring it “simply unworkable”; the American Academy of Actuaries saying effectively the same thing; AARP up in arms; and more [doctors, nurses, state governors, voters]. 

And yet, it still might become law this month. Why?

Jennifer Rubin, “The GOP’s Moral Rot Is the Problem, Not Donald Trump”, The Washington Post:

… for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, … elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party … with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House….

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity….the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code”. 

Helen Keller, Optimism: An Essay (1903):

The test of all beliefs is their practical effects in life. If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy. One who believes that the pain in the world outweighs the joy, and expresses that unhappy conviction, only adds to the pain. Schopenhauer is an enemy to the race. Even if he earnestly believed that this is the most wretched of possible worlds, he should not promulgate a doctrine which robs men of the incentive to fight with circumstance.

All right, Helen, the good news is that a Republican senator is recovering from surgery and won’t be in Washington this coming week. His vote would be needed to move the Republican bill forward, so the vote has been delayed, giving the opposition more time to terminate this horror show with extreme prejudice.

How Hillary Could Quickly Replace Donald and Tim Replace Mike

The many, many connections between DT’s campaign and Russia call into question the legitimacy of the 2016 election. Throw in the FBI’s misfeasance and malfeasance with regard to the Clinton email server and Anthony Weiner’s laptop; Clinton’s substantial popular vote margin; and the closeness of the election in three Midwestern states, and some of us can’t help thinking about having a new presidential election. After all, other countries schedule new elections quite often for one reason or another – our government sometimes demands that other countries do it.

Sadly, however, all the U.S. Constitution says is that American presidents are to be elected every four years.

Nevertheless, the Constitution offers a simple way for Hillary Clinton to replace DT and Tim Kaine to replace Mike Pence. All that’s required is a bit of cooperation from a handful of patriotic Republicans.

First, DT needs to leave office. He could resign like Richard Nixon did; he could be removed from office via the 25th Amendment on the grounds that he is clearly unfit to serve; or he could be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate for, say, accumulating wealth from foreign governments and/or collusion with Russia. Take your pick.

With DT having returned to private life, President Mike Pence would then choose Hillary Clinton to be Vice President. Assuming simple majorities in the House and Senate confirmed her appointment, Mrs. Clinton would become Vice President. That’s how Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller got the job, one after the other, in 1974. 

Next, President Pence would resign, automatically elevating Vice President Clinton to the presidency. No explanation would be necessary, although everyone would assume Pence didn’t want to have lunch with Hillary without his wife present.

President Clinton would then appoint Senator Tim Kaine as her Vice President. After majorities in the House and Senate confirmed his appointment, it would be as if the 2016 presidential election didn’t take us into Bizarro World!

Presumably, Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch would finally do the right thing and immediately step down, perhaps with the understanding that he’d be appointed to the Federal bench in a less supreme capacity. President Clinton could then nominate Merrick Garland to fill the seat he didn’t get the first time.

One might object that this sequence of events is so unlikely that it isn’t worth thinking about. As a practical solution to the current crisis, that is undeniably true. However, there are at least two reasons to consider it.

The first is that fiction can be enjoyable. We love stories in which the good guys win and order is restored, however implausible such victories may be.

Second, it’s interesting that, even though the Constitution as currently written doesn’t provide a way to redo a tainted election, a political party with simple majorities in the House and Senate and a President and Vice President willing to leave office can transfer power to whomever they want, without a new election, as long as the new President and Vice President are natural-born citizens, at least 35 years of age, and residents of the United States for at least 14 years. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine both meet those requirements. Unfortunately, so do Ivanka (35) and Jared (36).

Coincidentally, after writing the above, I was catching up on The New York Review of Books and read an April article about a Yale law professor, Akhil Reed Amar, whose specialty is the U.S. Constitution. I’m sorry to say he had my idea before I did, although for a different, much more plausible reason:

At the moment, we have to wait two and a half months after a general election for the victorious presidential candidate to take over—compared to the few minutes it takes in the UK for an electoral transition. Could we change this? It would be easy, says Amar. First of all, once the concession speeches are given, Vice President Biden resigns. President Obama then nominates Donald Trump to be vice-president, under the Twenty-fifth Amendment. Congress confirms him. Then President Obama gracefully steps aside and Vice President Trump becomes commander in chief. All in a matter of days…. Amar’s point is that “if Americans truly want to streamline our transfers of power, the Constitution does not stand in the way.”