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“Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny,” by Edward J. Watts

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on May 16, 2019

Everyone should read this book. It is a good recap of Roman history from BC 280 (the year of the Roman Republic’s battle with the Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus), to the death of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar in AD 14. It is also a vivid cautionary tale of how a republic like ours can fail.

Rome was a functioning republic until a series of events unfolded that set it on a different course. Although Ancient Rome was of a different age, readers will recognize similarities in our present day, and the primary drivers are identical: greed, and blind partisanship. These drivers induced political leaders and rivals to bend and abuse the laws and norms of the republic to their benefit, at the expense of the common good.

The rot began – and today’s readers will recognize this too – with dysfunction in the Senate. Senators began breaking the rules in their lust for power and riches. Senatorial partisan conflict progressed from insult, to threats of violence (Sulla brought an army into the city to intimidate other senators), to violence itself (Caesar was killed in the Senate chamber), to civil war.

Our legislative branch has not been functioning properly for at least two decades. The tipping point for us may have been the extreme malfeasance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who obstructed the entire eight years of the Obama administration out of pure bigotry, culminating in his refusal to perform his duty to advise and consent on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

McConnell is a modern day hero among conservatives, but I believe history will treat him as the rapacious scumbag he truly is, and possibly the root of our own historic decline.

In Rome, the situation became so dangerous that citizens “traded the liberty of political autonomy for the security of autocracy.” Ironically, Caesar was a skilled politician and competent leader as dictator, and his ultimate successor Octavian (later Augustus) was not only competent, but long-lived, which solidified the imperial form of government.

But then came terrible emperors like Caligula and Nero. (Cynics may jump in here and claim we have jumped over the Caesars and gone straight to the Caligulas and Neros with Trump today.)

Watts points out the obvious: that the republic did not have to die. A republic has no expiration date. It lasts as long as people want it enough to protect it. But he warns, “When citizens take the health and durability of a republic for granted, that republic is at risk.”

Our Constitution rests on the assumptions that our public officials will do their jobs (McConnell deliberately failed to do that), and that we will select good people to officiate. Republics survive on the choices made by those in charge of its custody.

Rome’s custodians failed to protect the public good. Ours are failing now. In each case, the result has been dangerous inequality between citizens and their leaders, a leading indicator of revolution.

Watts concludes, and I agree, that “A republic is a thing to be cherished, protected and respected. If it fails, an uncertain, dangerous and destructive future lies on the other side.” But this requires competent people working for the common good. Perhaps it is inevitable that there will be incompetent, selfishly motivated people in government, but they must be avoided as much as possible. Currently, we are wallowing in a sea of them.

Thoughts on Events the Week of May 6

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on May 15, 2019

Trade and Tariffs: I have opined previously that I looked forward to the time we would be competing economically with China, rather than militarily, and how unfortunate it is that now we have gotten there, our economic brain trust is a pack of atavistic hacks ill equipped to compete with China in checkers, let alone in global economics.

Our president is a fan of tariffs, which are about the most discredited tool in the economic competition tool box, incredibly stupid and counterproductive, so of course Trump is all for them.

Barry Goldwater was a pioneer in the Republican efforts to drag the U.S. back to the 50s. Trump wants to drag us back to 1930, when the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was enacted, with devastating consequences, and, in the opinion of most economists, exacerbated the Great Depression. Just the Donald’s kind of idea.

Injustice: Count me among those Americans who have read (almost) all of the Mueller Report so far available to the public, which clearly doesn’t say what Attorney General William Barr says it does (read he’s lying through his teeth). I have also read a piece in The New Yorker magazine on Michael Cohen, properly titled “Fall Guy,” and the two documents taken together raise questions of fairness and justice.

Cohen is a weak-jawed scum bag and a crook. He deserves to be in jail for the crimes he committed on his own, and others at the direction of Trump. And Cohen is in jail now, where he should be. But you cannot read the two documents without wondering why Trump isn’t in jail too. Cohen is guilty, but Trump is equally so regarding those crimes they did together. It is clearly justice unjustly applied.

Enemies Foreign and Imaginary: New Yorker Magazine also had a lengthy article about John Bolton recently. Bolton is genuinely nuts. He advocates preemptive nuclear strikes against our enemies, which include just about everybody, but including certainly, North Korea, Iran and Russia.  

We haven’t had anybody this nuts in a position of responsibility since Air Force General, and vice presidential running mate of George Wallace, American Independent Party candidate in 1968, Curtis Le May. Le May advocated for a nuclear war against Russia, and said a nuclear exchange with the USSR would be “winnable.” Since then, everybody except Bolton has come to realize that a nuclear war is not winnable by anyone on any level.

Bolton should not be in the White House, and should be kept as far away from the nuclear launch codes as possible, perhaps, say, on the Moon. Instead, he is at the ear of the most impulsive, malleable president in history, who listens to this guy. Keep this in mind when you hear the Administration talk about Iran.

The Moon: Speaking about the Moon, scientists are all jacked up to go back there. Everybody’s, doing it. The early Moon explorations were primarily to further science (and missile technology), but these new ones are precursors to mineral extraction, and to create a station from which to hop scotch across the solar system for extractions from other planets.

Some scientists promoting these ideas refer to the Moon as “the eighth continent,” a specious characterization, which implies the Moon is within easier reach than it actually is and will be easier, and by implication cheaper, than it will be.  

I detest this kind of thinking. I have no objection to extracting minerals from other planets or moons generally, but the way it is sold, gives us excuses to continue to squander and abuse our resources on earth, in much the same way that religion’s preaching about life everlasting lets people off the hook for taking care of where we are, and are always going to be.

As for the hop scotching, that’s an even stupider idea. I’m sorry, we may be able to hop scotch to planets, moons and even meteors and asteroids nearby, but we are never going beyond, because we cannot travel faster than the speed of light, and the next “hop” beyond our solar system is at a distance of light years. Get real, people. Spend the money on making Earth better instead.

The only good news in all this is that companies are taking on some of the expense instead of tax payers. The bad news is that corporations are generally easier to hack for technology secrets than government technology.

Status of the States: South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham brings home the cup for a second week in a row, for saying in public that Donald J. Trump, Jr. should ignore the subpoena issued to him by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Graham is on the Senate Intelligence Committee! This is an egregious abdication of his oath of office in the Senate, in order to kiss the ass of President Trump. Graham has his lips so firmly attached to Trump’s ass he cannot even see the Senate. Maybe he will succeed in becoming the worst pig part there.

Thoughts on Events the Week of April 15

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on April 27, 2019

Barr’s Single-Double: In one duplicitous effort – releasing a redacted Mueller Report and lying about its thrust before the release – Attorney General Barr created more distrust about the administration’s behavior and motives, further damaged the president’s reputation (if that is possible, which I think it is), and shredded his own.

Despite all this, little has changed. But not nothing has changed. Trump’s poll numbers have dropped a bit, and I suspect that the corrosive effect of the evidence that has been un-redacted so far will erode them further over time. At this rate, Trump’s standing is likely to be more run down than uplifted by the next election.

Mnuchin takes his turn in the barrel: Now the game is moving to a second theater of operations: the president’s tax returns. The Secretary of the Treasury is sullying his reputation over this one, by ignoring the law for his law-averse boss. I like this field of play better, because: the law is clearer here; this is where the criminal bodies are most likely buried; and because Mnuchin is an even less likable character than Barr, and I like seeing him destroy himself. He’s a pig part.

Cuba’s “death ray” debunked: Experts have concluded, where common sense should have sufficed, that Cuba was not pelting the U.S. Embassy with sickness inducing rays of some kind. (How does nonsense like this get started?)

In a remarkable display of intellectual back flipping, President Trump is again ignoring the opinion of his experts, with a twist. In the past, our experts have said that some authoritarian leader has does something reprehensible, the dictator says he hasn’t and Trump says he believes the dictator. Think North Korea, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.

In this case, our experts say Cuba didn’t engage in sickening our embassy personnel in Havana with sound waves, as was erroneously claimed, but President Trump says he believes it happened.  Trump is particular about which dictators he chooses to believe, apparently, but he clearly believes none of his experts.

Lorena Bobbitt, remember her?: Attempts are currently underway to rehabilitate the reputation of the woman who cut off her husband’s penis and threw it out her car window onto the side of the highway. She recently got a favorable write up by Amy Chozick in the Sunday New York Times, and Joshua Rofé has done a sympathetic documentary about her that has run somewhere recently.

The rehabilitation attempt won’t wash with me. This woman did something despicable, and in my view, she should have done some hard time for it, so to speak. (She was found innocent by reason of temporary insanity. What a crock!)

I’ll stipulate that Bobbitt’s former husband is a pig. His abusive behavior is indisputable. But Bobbitt had any number of other remedies. What she did was horrific, an assault on a man’s, well, manhood. It’s analogous to throwing acid in a woman’s face.

Diary Entry: Cynthia’s birthday was April 16. She would have been 68.

The Weather Channel is in my doghouse. They’ve stopped giving their “Local on the 8’s” local weather forecasts between five and six am, at the time I want to see it. I’m up and out of the house before they tell me what the day’s weather will be. Not helpful.

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on April 23, 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu: won re-election as Prime Minister of Israel, closing officially, I expect, the chapter of Israel’s history as a liberal democracy and confirming it as an oppressive, theocratic, authoritarian state. Israel has traded liberal democracy for (a false sense of) security. May it get what it deserves for making this dreadful bargain.

There once was no bigger supporter of Israel’s liberal democracy than I, in the days of David Ben Gurion and Abba Eban. But the legacy of those men has been swept aside in favor of religious extremism, intolerance and oppression, which I find odious. Israel is now no better than Egypt, Turkey or the Philippines. I am sad for the Israel that once was, but I have no sympathy for the new one.

Bottom line: Omar is correct in her criticism of Israel.

Tiger on the prowl: Tiger Woods won the Masters, an extraordinary feat at age 43. The physical and emotion hurdles he had to overcome during his lengthy stay in purgatory make it all the more remarkable. It is arguably the greatest comeback in the history of sports writ large.

I don’t watch golf, but I watch Tiger. I don’t really believe in sin, though, oddly, I do believe in redemption, and in my view, Tiger has achieved his. I’m happy for him, and to be able to watch him again.

Richard Neal and Trump’s tax returns: The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has stopped pussyfooting and subpoenaed Trump’s tax returns. This pleases me no end. Trump’s returns, and the underlying records reveal where the bodies of buried, which is why Trump has refused to release them. This will cause a big fight, but the law is on Neal’s side, clearly.

Status of the States: I read a poll showing Roy Moore with an early lead in Alabama’s next senatorial election, so Alabama gets the cup this week. It’s amazing that Moore is sufficiently without shame to show his face in public, let alone that this bigot represents the Republican Party in Alabama.

Thoughts on Events the Week of April 1

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on April 17, 2019

Homeland Insecurity: Kirstjen Nielsen was fired (let’s call it what it was) from her post as Secretary of Homeland Security by President Trump because he wants even bigger assholes running his anti-immigration operation. Apparently, she resisted some of Trump’s more odious directions. This may be true, but she implemented enough odious programs, most notably family separation, that she will not be missed.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, who comes into contact with Trump is diminished by the experience, but many of them were lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut to begin with.

Bob Barr Bends: Another Trump associate to experience the reputation- destroying effect of that association recently is Attorney General Bob Barr. Apparently, Barr entered the Trump administration with a pretty good reputation in D.C., though his pandering audition article raised eyebrows. Now, within a few short weeks, Barr’s actions – well intended or inexcusably partisan – have tarnished him irreparably. His biography is going on the shelf with Ken Starr’s.

Black Hole: We saw the first photograph of a black hole, something predicted by Einstein, and generally accepted, but not yet actually seen. This thing is huge! It’s 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. I don’t think the human mind can truly grasp the immensity of the universe.

When I first heard about black holes and how their density draws in so much matter, I was nervous. It seemed to me that the gravitational pull of something that dense would eventually swallow us all up. But it turns out that there are physical laws that prevent it from happening, which is a good thing. As Garrison Keillor said, “Obey the laws of nature; they were put here for our safety.”

“Meanwhile:” It’s said that writers are inspired by great writers. Great writers steal from them. I thought of this aphorism while watching Stephen Colbert introduce a new segment on his late night show called “Meanwhile,” which he clearly copied from Seth Meyers’ late, late night show. “Meanwhile,” is basically a segment playing off quirky news items, which Meyers has been doing for years. It’s part of his franchise. Colbert must have seen it is funny and effective and now he’s doing it. (Sudden thought: maybe I’m doing the same thing.)

Status of the States: I don’t care what these sorry states were doing this week. Who cares about the state fleas when the national dog of politics is peeing on the carpet? I do, actually, but not this week.

Catching up on Events the Week of March 25

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on April 14, 2019

Trump and taxes: The House Oversight committee requested President Trump’s tax returns, to which it is entitled by law. (Just ask the Republican House members who requested tax returns of Obama administration employees regularly.) I’m all for this request. I have thought all along that Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” will be more easily determined and understood than his politically deflected ones.

It’s hard to imagine, when you think about it, that Russia may have decided long ago to help Trump get elected president. That thinking probably formed coincidentally with their decision to meddle in our elections generally. It is, however, very easy to see Russia deciding that a sleazy and rather stupid real estate shyster would be easy to use in money laundering schemes, whether wittingly or unknowingly.

Immigrant abuse: ICE raided CVE Technology in Allen. TX, a suburb of Dallas, and walked away with 280 workers on immigration violation charges. This was the largest such workplace operation in more than a decade, and must have pleased the Trump administration no end. Most of the workers were women. The administration is being coy about whether any of those arrested were actual members of CVE’s management, which explains the schizophrenic core of our immigration problem.

On the one hand are anti-immigrant, bigoted, ignorant xenophobes who hate immigrants, and on the other, businesses that want and need to employ immigrants.

If we really want to stop “illegal immigration,” which I do not, nor do I think most people think is a true problem, we only need to put more business owners who employ undocumented immigrants in prison, not the undocumented immigrants themselves. The prospect of real jail time would be an effective deterrent to these owners.

But we can’t manage to do this, because, well, we all know we really need these workers. The result of this conflict is that we do nothing meaningful either way, but keep these people in limbo, exploit them, and use them as political pawns.

Pig on parade: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the “nuclear option” to make it easier to get Trump’s judicial nominees confirmed, which has caused many to opine that all filibuster rules will be gone soon. McConnell, a genuine pig part, about whom I will have more to write soon, is a greater affront to our democracy than President Trump can ever dream of being.

I’m ambivalent about the potential loss of the filibuster. On the one hand, it has been a useful tactic to slow things down in the Senate, which helps Senators avoid rushing into hastily ill thought out legislation. On the other hand, there is no denying that the whole process, which is found nowhere in the Constitution, is contrary to democratic theory.

In practice, the filibuster has been so badly abused by the Senate for the last several years that I think we are probably better off doing away with it entirely. Then, when Democrats take over the Senate, they can beat McConnell around the head and shoulders with it.

Status of the States: None of our worst states distinguished itself from the others in terms of egregious behavior this week, so we’ll not give out a cup. We certainly can’t give it to Texas, whose central casting Senator John Cornyn is showing faint signs waking up to smell the coffee, or more likely, smelling his own blood in the election waters. fff

Thoughts on Events the Week of March 25, or thereabouts.

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on April 3, 2019

Mueller Speaks: The Special Counsel’s report is out, more or less. We’ll learn more about it over time, but based on what I’ve heard so far, I for one am ready to set aside the issue of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Mueller says there is insufficient evidence to prove this, apparently, and if he says so, I’m ready to accept his conclusion and move on.

The issue of obstruction of justice is murkier. Apparently, Mueller reached no definitive conclusion about it and is leaving this hot potato to the politicians. He is probably right to do this. It is obvious to any but the willfully partisan that Trump obstructed justice blatantly, but since impeachment, the only remedy available at present in Mueller’s view, is a political and not a legal process, and since a large chuck of the population – Trump’s base, mostly – doesn’t seem to care that he did, this one will have to be settled by means non-judicial.

This report, however, begs two unasked, or at least unanswered, questions related to Russia: What can we do to prevent Russia’s meddling in our elections, with or without collusion, in the future? And, if Trump wasn’t colluding with the Russians, why has he been so deferential to Putin?

These questions are interrelated. If we are going to change Russia’s behavior, we are going to have to get a lot tougher on Putin than we have been, and Trump doesn’t seem able or willing to do that. Putin is a tin-pot dictator of a second rate country rapidly trending toward becoming a third world one, and he is no friend to us. He needs to be dealt with accordingly.

The demographic divide: I read an article recently whose thesis is that the polarization in our politics is not on an axis of urban/rural or left/right, but generational, i.e. older/younger. If this is the case, the author opines, then “older” is going to dominate politics for a while because: older people vote more and, thanks to Baby Boomers, the older demographic is larger and growing faster.

I hope this is true on one level, because, as a senior I can attest that Social Security and healthcare are high on my list of priorities, and these are the programs that Republicans are waging all-out war on in an effort to pay for their tax cut for the very rich. This would seem, then, like a disastrous strategy for Republicans to pursue, and it couldn’t happen to a nice bunch of guys.

Status of the States: South Carolina gets the worst state cup this week. As long as there is a worst state competition, South Carolina will always be in the hunt because one of its senators is Lindsey Graham, extreme war hawk and winner of the Donald Trump ass-kissing contest.

But South Carolina wins this week thanks to another South Carolina deplorable – Mick Mulvaney – who talked our incurious president into joining a suit to repeal Obamacare entirely. This mean-spirited horse part makes Paul Ryan seem almost compassionate and smart, which are two important things Ryan is not. This is going to bite Mulvaney and vulnerable Republican legislators in the ass (see item above), and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys.

Thoughts on Events the Week of March 11

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on March 18, 2019

The college entrance scandal that broke this week is symptomatic of everything that is wrong in America today: greed. (Well, plus racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, guns and ignorance.)

The golden rule in America, corrupted since President Reagan told us greed is good, circa 1980, is, “He who has the gold makes the rules,” and over time, those with the gold have used it to purchase a Congress that creates laws that give them more and more of it at the expense of everyone else. The result is that inequality has reached the point that we are now in another Gilded Age.

And yet, though the ultra-rich have written a blank check for themselves, they still want to steal from us. (Think Dick Cheney and Halliburton during the Iraq War.) And though those caught up in the college entrance scandal have myriad legal ways to help their children get into a good school, they still broke the law to get even more advantage.

Perhaps we should have a smidgen of sympathy for one of Lori Loughlin’s daughters who is caught up in this scandal. Based on a social media posting by her, she is a vacuous, incurious, spoiled airhead who would have trouble getting into any school without spectacular help. And do you think for a moment that George W. Bush or Donald Trump would have gotten into their prestigious schools without help (read daddy’s money)?

Another example of the corrosive influence of money in our system is the light sentence Paul Manafort received in his first criminal trial from a judge obviously conditioned to genuflect to wealth and influence.

So, it turns out that our best and brightest are merely our most corrupt and venal. But deep down, we already knew that. It’s been apparent for a while. fffffffffff

To Impeach or not to Impeach?

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on March 14, 2019

That is the question Democrats are debating presently. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is correct: impeachment is, at the least, premature.

That being the case, I was stunned when The Atlantic, a generally sober magazine and one of my favorites, published a major article by Yoni Appelbaum in its March issue advocating impeachment now, which was as flawed with specious arguments and as misguided as anything I have ever read in the magazine. Very disappointing.

Basically, Appelbaum’s argument is that we should begin the impeachment process now because Trump is already impeachable based on what we already know, and that even if it is not successful, it will gum up the political works, and impede Trump’s political agenda.

First, impeachment is far too serious an issue to play fast and loose with. That is simply irresponsible governance. And, our legislature is already dysfunctional enough. We need to get serious about restoring it, not making it worse.

Second, it is obvious that Trump’s base, and therefore Republican legislators, don’t care what Trump has done so far. They have sold their souls to him, so impeachment on the basis of what we know now is bound to fail, waste everyone’s time, and diminish the gravity of the process.

Impeachment, if it ever occurs, will have to await the findings of Robert Mueller’s investigation, which may or may not produce evidence sufficient to warrant it, or the product of investigations now beginning in the House. My own expectation is that Trump will survive the Mueller investigation, unless it produces some really egregious crime, and maybe even then.

I expect, however, that the investigations by House committees will be so aggressive that they will drive Trump from office ultimately. They, and the weight of the Mueller investigation, will cause Trump to quit, or lose re-election.

So, I don’t expect Trump to be impeached. I expect he will likely go to jail after he leaves office, based on his various financial crimes, rather than anything political. Trump brought this on himself by shining bright light on his personal life by running for president. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. r

Thoughts on Recent Weekly Events

Posted in Uncategorized by EloiSVM42 on March 13, 2019

There has been a lot of important news recently, including just this last week – too much to cover in one post, so I will address various items individually in subsequent ones.

But the most important recent news, in my view, occurred in mid-February, when a Delta Airlines flight from Orange County airport in Southern California to Seattle experienced severe turbulence so violent that it forced an emergency landing in Reno, NV, and sent three passengers to the hospital.

I say again that we will start paying attention to climate change when it becomes too dangerous to fly, which may be sooner than we think. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these incidents in the spring, a traditionally turbulent weather period.

Coincidentally, the latest Democrat to announce he is running for president is Washington State governor Jay Inslee, whose campaign focus will be exclusively on fighting climate change. He is well spoken and may prove to be a compelling candidate.

Sudden Thought: The fastest and easiest way to get Jared Kushner’s top secret security clearance revoked, which he should never have gotten in the first place, and wouldn’t have were he not Trump’s son-in-law, is to indict him for and convict him of a crime. He is surely guilty of some. Should be easy peasy.

Status of the States: The worst state cup goes to Arizona, my own personal state, courtesy of Congressperson Paul Gosar, my own personal Congressperson, for his antics during the Michael Cohen hearing. He embarrassed himself, but also the state. Gosar should learn first to pronounce words correctly, and then not to use them.