Chief Injustice

When the founders designed the Federal government, they thought carefully about how to ensure that at least one branch would be protected from electoral pressure – the Judicial Branch.

The other branches of government have staggered turnovers: the House of Representatives every other year, the Senate every six years, and the President every four years. The idea was that the longer the term, the more resistant to public pressure. It is for this reason that the Senate prides itself on being the “greatest deliberative body in the world.”

But the federal judiciary serve lifetime terms because they are intended to be immune to political pressure. They need not consider how a decision or opinion from the bench will affect their electoral prospects. This allowed the Supreme Court, early in the history of nation (Marbury vs. Madison), to claim the role of deciding whether the actions of the other branches were legal under the terms of the highest law of the land – the US Constitution.

The founders understood that political actors would use the powers of office to secure their position. In other words, the founders understood that every act by a elected official would have political consequences. In the hoped-for outcome, good policy would lead the voters to re-elect the official. In the unfortunate case, exposure of misconduct would cause the voters to deny the official their office.

Unfortunately, that requires that the misconduct be revealed. The founders again provided diverse methods for that to occur. The first is the free press. The second is the balance of powers: each of the three branches has the opportunity to check misconduct in the other branches.

The Supreme Court is intended to be the branch most immune to pressure when it exercises that responsibility. Unfortunately, it has abdicated that role. Under the guidance of “Chief Justice” John Roberts, the justices selected by Republican presidents have decided that they wish to avoid “political involvement.”

This is absolutely childish. Every act of the federal government has political outcomes. That one party or the other claims a case is “political” is natural, but irrelevant. The job of the court is to decide whether the actions of officials in the other branches is legal under the Constitution. To abdicate that role is absurd, childish, and cause for impeachment. It is the reason that the Supreme Court exists.

This is not idle speculation. The Court, considering the national conspiracy to disenfranchise electors in 2010 (The GoP “Red Map” project), determined that it was “nonjusticiable.” In other words, the Court would not decide whether the plan violated the Constitution right to vote in free and fair elections.

Similarly, the conservative members of the Court have avoided intervention to enforce Congressional subpoenas that are essential to exposing criminality in the Executive Branch.

This injustice is a political act. The chief proponent of that policy, John Roberts, is woefully ill-suited to his role. Claiming that the Court should avoid political entanglements is absurd. When a question of legality or legitimacy is brought before the court, the only criterion that the Court can consider is the Law, with the Constitution as the ultimate standard for legality.

Postal, Going

In the run-up to Henry V’s invasion, the French state was weakened by the reign of a delusional king. Charles VI went through long periods as an alternate personality. The court politics was organized around ensuring access to the king during his initial moments of coherency. The lucky individual had complete control of the affairs of state.

What is pathetic in the current era is the obvious manipulation of our Chief Executive by the unscrupulous. Trump is a paranoid delusional, his antagonism to government reinforced during impeachment by the parade of public servants who came forward to expose his malfeasance.

The fear of destruction justifies all selfishness. In an executive, it is thus the crowbar used to destroy institutions. The characteristic attitude of selfishness is “I do not care what it cost to make this. I do not care how much damage its loss will cause. If I want it, I will take it; and if it threatens me, it will be destroyed.”

Trump’s usefulness to the selfish is no more evident than in his decision to abandon the Postal Service, the largest non-profit public service institution in America. With the threat of universal vote-by-mail kept in the shadows, he manufactured a charge that the Postal Service subsidizes Amazon deliveries. Delivered with absolute conviction – as was his assertion that injecting disinfectants would cure COVID-19 infections – clearly the same process is in play: he was given a brief by someone, and passed the information on to the public as true.

The Postal Service has been under attack by private delivery services for many years. Much as in the health insurance market, they want to carve out the low-cost delivery operations in urban areas, abandoning the rural communities. That those communities, already deprived of health care services, would be further cut adrift and disempowered electorally, is of no concern to them. They simply seek profit.

Indentured to Incompetence

When the Clinton Administration briefed the incoming Bush team, they emphasized the importance of sending a clear response to the bombing of the USS Cole. The Bush foreign policy team sneered, proclaiming the Cole a “Clinton failure,” and went merrily about strong-arming Russia and China to modify nuclear weapons treaties to allow the design, test, and deployment of a nuclear missile shield. Remembering the inanity of the designs promoted during the Reagan and Bush era, I shook my head. Some in positions of influence tried to trumpet warnings: Tom Daschle, Democratic head of the Senate majority, stood on the Capital steps late in the summer of 2001 to voice his concern that the Bush team was baiting the wrong bear.

Daschle’s priority was international Islamic terrorism. It took only a month for his fears to be realized, horrifically, with the event known now simply as “9/11.”

The cost multiplier for inaction was astonishing, and certainly enormously satisfying to bin Ladin and those inspired by his an example. A meaningful response to the Cole would have cost perhaps $10 million. The response to the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Congress – involving two wars, time-consuming and costly restrictions on travel, and interruption of international commerce – mounted into the trillions of dollars. For every dollar not spent on prudent prevention, we spent nearly a million dollars.

Swallowing their criticism, the rational party accepted the outcome of the Bush Administrations incompetence as “the new normal.”

Today, with the nation’s economy smothered by pandemic, the apologists for the Trump Administration insist that this is “the new normal.” But step back into the last Democratic executive, a man excoriated by Trump’s “Birther” movement, and we see that this is nothing normal at all. The Zika and H1N1 threats were effectively neutered by the Obama Administration. The total number of lives lost was in the low thousands, with no significant impact on the economy.

The lessons learned from those efforts were institutionalized in protocols for international cooperation led by a team directly in the White House itself.

While I respect the Office of the Presidency, my scorn for Trump is complete due to his utter contempt for the office itself. The Presidency is not a man, it is an institutional process for coordinated decision-making and action. Information is fed into the White House and plans flow out. Trump has not only besmirched the office, he has decimated the processes built over two hundred years to empower presidents to accomplish the nation’s goals. The motivation for those willful acts is Trump’s record of corrupt business dealings, evidenced even during his campaign as he attempted to wield his political prominence to influence civil cases already in progress. Once in office, he systematically bent the powers of his office toward destruction of the institutions assigned to prosecute his corruption.

While the politicization of the security and foreign policy services may be the longest-lasting of those institutional rapes, in real time we are finding ourselves again indentured to incompetence in the Executive Branch. Elimination of Obama’s pandemic action team left the world without a leader in the reaction to COVID-19. The early response to the disease has already cost trillions of dollars, and we can expect the death toll to rise toward 100,000 American lives. Millions of jobs have been lost under the weight of business failures. The obligations of missed payments and unfulfilled contracts will take years to unravel in the court system.

And Trump’s supporters shrug their shoulders and mourn “This is the new normal.” No it’s not. It’s the old abnormal. Wake up, and if you’re unwilling to vote for a Democrat, at least stay home until your party can prop up a candidate with at least minimal competence. I, for one, am tired of being indentured to your blind loyalty.

Pandemic and Prosocial Strategies

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley published an interview with Paul Atkins on principles of prosocial action that will help us to maintain community during the pandemic. The principles and prescriptions are sound. I had a few points to make regarding historical interpretation.


Adam Smith wrote on the tragedy of the commons in “The Wealth of Nations.” His prescription was that government must ensure the well-being of specialized workers made unnecessary by changes in technology. This is an aspect of his humane judgment omitted by the neo-conservative economists that coined the phrase “greed is good” in the ’80s. As Smith was the authority they cited, I think that it is important to honor his opinions.

What is cited as Asian “collectivism” is typical of all agricultural societies. It is evaporating under the opportunities for rapacity allowed by rapid industrialization and centralized political control.

Both phenomena are supported by the original form of “social distancing”: the creation of gated communes for the wealthy that enable them to avoid confrontation with those suffering the consequences of their narcissism. The COVID-19 pandemic is a great leveler of those privileges, as will be the consequences of global climate change. Their preserves, often sited in the most desirable of environments, will suffer the greatest disruption.

“We Will Get Through This”

No we won’t, Donald. Hundreds of thousands of us will get sick, perhaps 100,000 will be unable to resume their previous life because of lung damage, tens of thousands will die.

All because you did not act when the Democratic caucus advised you on February 5th that you needed funding to plan for the outbreak. All because you downplayed the danger and allowed people to continue to congregate. All because you did not act to ensure supplies and equipment were in place.

You can “play by instinct” and do your word salad and monitor your Tweet likes to find out what plays well with your base. You may escape blame. But the hospitals and governors will assemble the numbers and you will be called to account in the next election.

You said we’d “win so much you’ll get tired of winning.” Well we’re dying instead, and even Twitter won’t save you from that contrast when November comes around.

WTFU

I’ll re-iterate yesterday’s point in secular terms. Prior administrations, recognizing the disastrous costs of a future pandemic, established an office directly within the White House to ensure international coordination when new diseases are detected. This reflected recognition that the primary spawning ground is currently Southeast Asia. It is in tracking Asian outbreaks of influenza that we build our current flu vaccines.

Prior administrations used the White House office to prevent the spread of MERS and SARS and Ebola. The Trump Administration, in some kind of “Make America Great Again” isolationist pique, dismantled that office. Thus when COVID-19 reared its ugly head, there was no one to lead the response. Worse, the President downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, and deflected blame to others when it began to make inroads in American communities.

The end result of this strategy was visible in yesterday’s CDC press release. In the most ridiculous display of sycophancy imaginable, the CDC head spoke fawningly of Trump’s initiative in helping to “flatten the curve” of infection. What this means, people, is that they recognize that the disease is out of control. 60-70% of Americans will be infected, with fatalities up in the high hundreds of thousands or low millions. Their only goal is to slow the rate of infection to avoid saturating the American health care system. If that happens, fatalities could reach into tens of millions.

To characterize this as a laudable outcome is simply absurd. That it is being touted in press conferences is tantamount to admission that Trump behind the scenes is threatening to fire anyone who does not flatter his leadership. He is holding the American public hostage to his ego. Obviously the President does not recognize that he abdicates leadership with statements that he’s “not responsible for anything.” Followed by “someone in my Administration did it,” it’s clear that his paranoia has grown from the “Deep State” to blanket his own people.

Those in the Republican Party who projected this faker into the Oval Office have much to answer for. You should have helped the Democrats throw him out on his ear.

The Abyss

They don’t love him because he speaks for them, or because he entertains them.

They love him because through him they deploy the only strategy that seems to work any longer – the strategy of terror.

“Take care of us or we’ll blow our country up.”

Ignited by anger, driven by fear. The worse the corruption and criminality, the more heartened his supporters. They glory in the hand-wringing and hypocrisy of legislators and judges who step into line to ratify his conduct.

Through him they have power. They have meaning. They are seen. People have to pay attention.

We are become our own enemy. And the Madih resting at the bottom of the Indian Ocean smiles in delight.

Not All Lost

Spent a fair portion of the day yesterday in the Santa Clarita area. Both church services I attended focused on Thursday’s events at Saugus High School. When I returned at 7 PM for the vigil in Central Park, the park was packed with people – I ended up standing 200 or more feet from the stage.

I did the best that I could to support the speakers, several of whom teetered on the edge of emotional collapse.

I was heartened that both of the deceased children were memorialized. I’ve been to several cities after such shootings, and this was the first time the shooter was remembered as a loving, active presence in the community. I consider it a huge step forward.

Block-Head Chain

We may be losing the trade war in goods with China, but the virtual trade war is running nicely. It seems the US should soon resume its historical dominance in natural resources production…

Excerpted from the link:

Extracting a dollar’s worth of cryptocurrency such as bitcoin from the deep Web consumes three times more energy than digging up a dollar’s worth of gold.

There are now hundreds of virtual currencies and an unknown number of server farms around the world running around the clock to unearth them, more than half of them in China

Money for Nothing

One of the fundamental assumptions of free-market theory is that information is frictionless. A competitor introducing a higher-value laundry detergent drives innovation only if consumers know about the product. Renewable sources of electricity will be adopted only if public utilities can mothball their existing fossil-fuel-based generating plants – made more difficult when the bonds are still being paid off.

For much of the second half of the twentieth century, the American worker benefited from friction in the delivery of goods and services. That friction took many forms: shipping costs, brand loyalty, and legal and financial rules. Today, globalization of markets forces us to compete with much cheaper sources of labor overseas, and the laziness of American managers (as compared to German and Asian counterparts that invested in skill development) means that jobs bleed across our borders.

The last redoubt of friction is financial services. The Baby Boomers generation accumulated huge retirement reserves, and Reagan-era fiscal policies have driven government deeply into debt. The dollar is the currency of choice for international business. Finally, expensive real-time trading technology is a high barrier to entry.

To those that understood the dynamics, it was no surprise that in the fiscal year following the 2008 meltdown, financial services companies reaped fully half of the profits enjoyed by American business. The system was rigged in their favor.

Some information about the practices of the industry have been revealed by those investigating the collapse of mortgage equities and the Ivan Boesky pyramid scheme. Every financial advisor banks on insider trading. Their job is to build relationships that allow them to get their clients to the trough first when an opportunity is created. No outsider can hope to compete.

Now the World Economic Forum has weighed in on the dangers to this system of artificial intelligence. Substituting a relentless, unbiased algorithm for your investment advisor ensures that you will always be given the best deal available. Your loan may come from Malaysia instead of Wall Street, but the impact of that truth is to drive down costs in the financial services sector.

Yes, the interim will be messy as the trading algorithms expose instability and self-serving in our existing financial system. But the end result will be a system with far less friction. As promised in free-market theory, money will find those inspired to create value, and bypass those motivated solely by greed.